President Obama Needs to Lead, Not Follow, on Weapons Ban

In one of the Democratic debates in the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama was asked why as an Illinois state legislator he voted Present so many times rather than Yes or No. He turned to John Edwards and said perhaps with a touch of condescension, "Understand, John, that I led, not followed."

As President, Obama has indeed led in many respects. He authorized the Navy SEALs' daring raid that led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden. He is crushing Al Qaeda with targeted drone killings and commando raids. He has done as good a job as could be expected in responsibly phasing our military out of war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. He oversaw the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which will allow millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions to get health coverage. He showed political savvy and compassion in issuing an executive order to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

There are people who believe that it is political suicide even to broach the possibility of a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Maybe, they are right. But if we are to do our best to prevent future massacres, such as the one that just occurred in Aurora, Colo., we need to do something other than offer condolences to the victims and speak of the very real acts of heroism of the survivors.

The reason why I have called for President Obama to issue an executive order banning these military-style firearms and magazines is because there is quite obviously no chance that a cowardly and intransigent Congress, in bed with the NRA, would risk passing gun-control legislation in an election year, or perhaps in any year given this political climate.

Some have called me naive, foolish or anti-Obama for proposing such an executive order, just as they did after I called for a weapons ban on the anniversary of the Tucson massacre. But if I were president, I would be haunted by the prospect of another massacre on my watch. We already had Fort Hood and Tucson during Obama's presidency. Now, we've had Aurora, Colo., as well as numerous other tragedies on a daily basis in towns like Chicago.

As Arianna Huffington pointed out in her Sunday Roundup, the U.S. has 20 times more gun fatalities than the next 22 richest countries combined.

Yes, we had massacres such as Virginia Tech and Columbine under George W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well as massacres under other presidents, but a true leader, one who leads, not follows, knows that the buck stops with him, as President Obama has often said.

A true leader wouldn't want to make a moral and political calculation and, like a reckless gambler, bet that there will be no further massacres in the next three and one-half months until the election. A true leader would implement an executive order banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines now.

If, God forbid, another massacre takes place before the election, what will President Obama tell families of future victims? He will probably cite scripture again and grieve with them, but in many respects his words will ring hollow because he will have failed to do the one thing that he could to try to prevent such atrocities -- and that is, to authorize a ban on these weapons and magazines immediately.

There are those who will continue to claim that I am politically naive. Maybe, I am just an idealist in that I am simply expecting more from our politicians than their own desire to hold onto power. We elected them, in particular President Obama, to show leadership, not to dedicate their tenure in office to getting reelected. Not one of these politicians will ever lack for work. If they, and that includes President Obama, lose their office, most will end up as lobbyists, media personalities, authors or lecturers, nearly all of them well compensated.

Chances are that President Obama will ignore my call for an executive order. That is his prerogative. After all, he wants to get reelected, and I want him to be reelected. But if another massacre transpires on his watch, sadly, he will have failed the leadership test. In a sense, he already has. He could have used his electoral mandate to try to push through gun-control legislation after Fort Hood, and he certainly could have issued an executive order after Tucson.

We need President Obama to vote other than Present on this issue.