The President of the United States addressed his nation from the Oval Office last night. It was only the third time that Obama has done so during his Presidency. The previous two addresses were both in 2010, when the new-office smell was still relatively fragrant in his nose. Then he spoke about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and announced the end of combat operations in Iraq. They were, in retrospect, such happy times…
It’s been five long years since his last address and what was perhaps most remarkable about his third wasn’t what he promised but what he omitted. There was no announcement about any immediate actions. There were no shout outs to aircraft carriers. This wasn’t a proactive speech as much as it was a reactive speech. It was the closest a President could come to heaving a sigh, shrugging his shoulders and asking ‘hey, what more can I do?’
‘We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us’ was Obama’s message in abbreviated form. Beyond that, his speech was an admission that America is broken and, in fact, so broken that there’s little he can do about it. In the middle of the speech, where the important points are usually packed and polished for maximum effect, he talked about suspects on the Terrorist Watch List who are still permitted to buy automatic weapons. This was really the meat of the evening and, I would argue, the very reason why Obama addressed the nation. It wasn’t so much as an appeal to Congress as it was a finger wagged sharply in their direction. ‘What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?’ was the only question the President asked, as if admitting his own inability to find an answer.
Obama closed with the usual admonition that the fight isn’t with Islam yet what he really needed to say and perhaps wanted to say was that fundamentalist Islam is not, nor has it ever been, America’s greatest enemy. Between 2001 to 2013, deaths by firearms were 406,496 on American soil. During that same time, 3,380 people died as a result of an act of terrorism, 2996 of whom died on 9/11. Given that gun deaths in America average in excess of 30,000 per year, it approximates to having another Virginia Tech (32), Sandy Hook (27), San Bernardino (14) and Columbine High School (13) massacre each and every day.
With gun ownership rising and ever more powerful weapons reaching the market, there seems to be no way back for a nation that is sleepwalking towards a precipice. Even the mildest gun restrictions struggle to make it into law and anything that would properly address the endemic would threaten armed insurrection within America’s borders. Earlier in the year, Texas’s government had to quell fears that troop movements in the area of Bastrop were the precursor to the Federal government imposing martial law in the state. Right wing media websites have been buzzing with such speculation all year and it’s a sign of the disconnect between the government and its heavily-armed citizens that such paranoia gets worse with each passing year.
A President could never admit as much, of course, but the religion of the gun is the biggest danger that Americans face and the great battle of the future will be when Reasonable America faces down Fundamentalist America, as it must surely do.