Grow a spine

    So President Obama dutifully trekked to Colorado yesterday to deliver the requisite griever-in-chief platitudes – one of which was, “Out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come.”Here’s a wild idea for Obama: Skip the worthless fortune cookie phraseology, and grow a spine. Take a stand. Do something that might actually increase the odds of a brighter day.He could start by demanding that Congress reinstate the federal assault weapons ban. Morally, it’s the right thing to do. And politically, it’s way less risky than it looks.The ban on the sale of assault weapons was enacted in 1994 (Bill Clinton pushed hard to pass it), but it was allowed to expire in 2004 (George W. Bush didn’t lift a finger to save it). If the ban had been in effect this year, the Aurora shooter would not have been able to legally purchase his AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle, nor the 100-round magazine that was attached to it. He still would have stormed the theater, but the carnage arguably would have been less severe. And that’s precisely why police organizations supported the assault weapons ban in the first place – because, as Bush’s Department of Justice concluded in a 2004 study, those weapons “result in more shots fired, more persons hit, and more wounds inflicted per victim than do attacks with other firearms.”No, an extension of the ban would not have ushered in nirvana. But, these past eight years, it likely would have made America just a wee bit safer. There’s no way to eradicate the horrific culture of violence in America – it’s embedded in our DNA – but there are ways to curb its worst manifestations. Such was the assault weapons ban – which Obama, as an ’08 presidential candidate, had promised to reinstate.Now would be a nice time to campaign on that broken promise.Yeah, the NRA cracks the whip in Washington, and yeah, a plurality of Americans reportedly favor “gun rights” over “gun control.” But an assault weapons ban would be popular. In the wake of the Arizona shootings 18 months ago, the CBS News-New York Times poll found that 63 percent would favor a prohibition on the sale and possession of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. That’s a landslide majority, primed for Obama to lead it.Yeah, he’d take heat from the NRA, the gun-loving absolutists, and rural white guys. But they aren’t going to vote for him anyway; they didn’t in 2008 and they won’t now. On the other hand, Obama’s coalition – particularly upscale professional women and college-educated whites in key areas like suburban Philadelphia – would surely welcome a bully pulpit crusade for a new assault weapons ban. It would give them a stronger incentive to show up on November 6. Better that they see him standing for something rather than cowering in a bunker.And as evidenced by the polls, banning assault weapons is a centrist position. This was obvious way back in 1994, when police organizations lobbied for the ban on Capitol Hill. They saw it as a law enforcement issue. Ten years later, in 2004, they argued unsuccessfully that the ban should be extended. Today, they want the ban reinstated. What could be more centrist than cops?The International Association of Chiefs of Police – which represents roughly 16,000 police chiefs nationwide – has declared: “Weapons of this nature serve no legitimate sporting or hunting purposes and have no place in our communities…Failure to reauthorize the assault weapons ban is a significant step back for law enforcement and public safety.” Miami police chief (and former Philadelphia top cop) John Timoney stated in 2009 (after assault weapons caused 12 casualties at a Miami birthday party): “For me it’s a no-brainer. These are weapons of war. Under no circumstances do they belong on the streets of America…If we don’t stop it now, what’s it going to look like 10 years from now?”How big a political risk would it be for Obama to crusade for a new assault weapons ban – on a stage flanked by uniformed cops and chiefs of police? This is a law enforcement and public safety issue. What’s the downside in standing up for that?Obama’s presidential transition website, back in December 2008, explicitly stated his support for “making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as such weapons belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets.” It’s past time that he fulfilled his vow.The Republicans on Capitol Hill would block a new ban, natch, as would the quaking conservative Democrats, but so what? A real leader establishes the moral parameters of an issue. It would truly be “a brighter day” if Obama did that, on this issue. The victims in Colorado, and all the innocents felled each year by assault weapons, deserve no less. ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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