Being "Deeply Saddened" at Gun Violence Is Not Enough

Today we offer them our thoughts and prayers, but we also have to offer them our determination to do whatever it takes to eradicate this violence from our streets, from our schools, from our neighborhoods and our cities. That is our duty as Americans.

- Senator Barack Obama, February 2008

Yesterday, President Obama gave an historic speech in Cairo, Egypt, in an attempt to create a new relationship between the United States and 1.5 billion Muslims across the world. Earlier this month, he spoke to the graduates of Notre Dame University on bringing together opposing sides of the abortion debate.

Meanwhile, the president is still overseeing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to pull the economy out of the ditch, and pushing to enact health care and energy reform by the end of the year.

Yes, the president has a lot on his plate. Yet not only did then-Senator Obama contemplate this heavy workload, he campaigned for it. As a presidential candidate, he famously said last September, "It's going to be part of the president's job to be able to deal with more than one thing at once."

Keeping this in mind, there is an immediate economic and public health crisis in America that, so far, both the president and Congress have chosen to ignore: approximately 12,000 gun homicides, 17,000 gun suicides, 650 accidental gun deaths, plus 70,000 non-fatal gun injuries occur every year in this country.

Yet rather than propose concrete action that makes it harder for dangerous people to get firearms -- while still respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners -- all Washington can seem to muster after high-profile shootings are "thoughts and prayers" for the victims and their families.

For his part, the president has also included sincere expressions of "deep sadness" at these tragic losses -- though without any call to change any of our policies to prevent those losses.

For example, after the shootings in March of four Oakland, CA police officers at the hands of a gunman armed with a military-style assault rifle, the president said in a prepared statement:

I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of Sgt. Mark Dunakin, Officer John Hege, Sgt. Ervin Romans, and Sgt. Daniel Sakai. Michelle and I hold their families and your community in our thoughts and prayers.

Our Nation is grateful for the men and women of law enforcement who work tirelessly to ensure the safety of our citizens and our neighborhoods. They risk their lives each day on our behalf and ask little in return. And although the danger of their work is well known, words still fail to explain the senseless violence that claims so many of them....

Following the April massacre of 13 aspiring American citizens in Binghamton, NY, by a deranged gunman - who fired 99 rounds from two semi-automatic pistols with high-capacity ammunition magazines before killing himself - the President said in a prepared statement:

Michelle and I were shocked and deeply saddened to learn about the act of senseless violence in Binghamton, NY today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and the people of Binghamton. We don't yet know all the facts, but my administration is actively monitoring the situation and the Vice President is in touch with Governor Paterson and local officials to track developments.

I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear the news from Camp Victory this morning, and my heart goes out to the families and friends of all the service members involved in this horrible tragedy. I will press to ensure that we fully understand what led to this tragedy, and that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our men and women in uniform are protected as they serve our country so capably and courageously in harm's way. To begin this process, I met with Secretary Gates this afternoon to get a briefing on the situation.

And now, in the days following an attack on a military recruiting station in Little Rock, AR, that killed one soldier and wounded another - at the hands of yet another man armed with a military-style assault rifle - the President released this prepared statement:

I am deeply saddened by this senseless act of violence against two brave young soldiers who were doing their part to strengthen our armed forces and keep our country safe. I would like to wish Quinton Ezeagwula a speedy recovery, and to offer my condolences and prayers to William Long's family as they mourn the loss of their son.

Contrast these statements with Candidate Obama's pointed remarks after yet another deranged "suicide shooter" attacked a classroom at Northern Illinois University in February 2008 and murdered 5 students before killing himself:

Today we offer them our thoughts and prayers, but we also have to offer them our determination to do whatever it takes to eradicate this violence from our streets, from our schools, from our neighborhoods and our cities. That is our duty as Americans.

Four-and-a-half months into his Administration, it sounds like there is a difference between Candidate Obama and President Obama.

Candidate Obama stated his firm belief that we can reach common ground about effective ways to address gun violence prevention in America while respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

Yet up to now, President Obama has been unwilling to do much more than express his deep sadness and send his thoughts and prayers to victims and their families in response to shooting after shooting in this country, repeating gun lobby rhetoric that we should just "enforce the laws on the books," and sidestepping the fact that there are only a handful of Federal laws which make it harder for dangerous people to get guns.

He has yet to offer even a hint of his commitment after the Northern Illinois killings "to do whatever it takes" to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.

Gun violence prevention should no longer be a cultural issue or a wedge issue. The Supreme Court decision last summer helped affirm this by putting the extreme positions in this debate off the table.

When it comes to preventing tens of thousands of senseless American deaths and injuries every year, President Obama has a perfect opportunity to bring Americans together on a broad middle ground.

In the wake of the next mass shooting - and sadly, due to America's lack of a gun violence prevention safety net, I fear this is inevitable - I hope the president goes beyond merely expressing his deep sadness, and calls on Congress and on all Americans to act.

(Note to readers: This entry, along with past entries, has been co-posted on and the Huffington Post.)