Just over a month after the shooting, President Obama has formally laid out an extensive and impressive gun control proposal, including criminal background checks for all gun sales, reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, a federal gun trafficking statute, and an additional set of 23 executive orders.
“This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged,” Obama told reporters on Wednesday. “We can’t put this off any longer.”
Standing by itself, the administration’s swift action is commendable. Extensive gun violence, on a basic level, can be partly addressed by reasonable gun control. But it’s important not to fetishize modest technocratic remedies to deeper structural problems, as mainstream liberal discussions about violence unfortunately seem to do all too often. The notion that gun control alone will wipe away gun violence, is ultimately inadequate.
The administration’s recent proposal, like the demands of many of the most vocal pro-gun control advocates, are detached from the increasingly hierarchical and unequal society we live in. Inequality, poverty, and lack of opportunity all breed violence—but these issues receive scant attention from superstar gun control advocates like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. During his more than 10 years at City Hall, the multi-billionaire Bloomberg has presided over a deepening of the income gap in New York City, which is, as the New York Times noted, now on par with Sub-Saharan African countries. It is doubtful that the mayor’s policies of closing public schools, his total lack of interest in affordable housing, or even his police department’s policy of stop-and-frisk that targets brown-skinned youth, are, as Obama urged, keeping children safe. The children that are part of the 21 percent of the city now living in poverty could be made safer by having affordable housing for their families or adequate education. Having less guns on the streets, whether it’s in New York or elsewhere, ultimately does far too little to actually improve the safety of the majority of the population.
The administration should be applauded for its recent proposal. But the discussion about gun violence—if it’s truly centered around the safety of young people—needs to be broadened far beyond gun control. As the debt-ceiling negotiations approach, with cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other vital social programs apparently all on the table, we should keep that bigger picture in mind.
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