WASHINGTON – With the memory of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., fixed in the nation’s mind, President Obama outlined Jan. 16 what can been described as the most sweeping gun-control policies in decades.
In introducing the president at the White House event, Vice President Joe Biden said the nation has a “moral obligation” to attempt to reduce gun violence.
While acknowledging there is no law or piece of legislation that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, Obama said, “If there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”
He urged Congress to restore the ban on “military-style assault weapons,” restrict ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, require universal background checks for weapon purchases and outlaw the manufacture and importation of armor-piercing bullets. Obama also called for more federal funds to support additional school resource officers and counselors for local school districts.
The president signed 23 executive orders, including measures to provide additional information to the background check system for gun purchases, to “clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes,” and to issue a challenge to the private sector to develop innovative gun safety technologies.
In an interview with Baptist Press, Richard Land said he is disappointed with the president’s failure during his remarks to address mental health issues in moral detail in light of the Newtown shootings. He said the president focused on only one issue that had relevance in the Newtown shootings – a restriction on the size of an ammunition clip.
Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said at least four factors contributed to the tragedy: an absence of armed personnel at the elementary school, the fact the shooter was evidencing signs of abnormal behavior so serious that his mother was seeking to have him committed to a mental health institution, that he reportedly was walled up in a windowless room playing violent video games for extended periods of time, and that he had access to weapons owned by his mother.
The Connecticut shooter’s mother could have passed all the federal background checks, Land noted.
SXC photo by Agnieszka W.
“The last 30 years of reforms in mental health have made it virtually impossible to commit someone unless they engage in heinous acts,” Land said.
“We need to have a national conversation about all the elements that go into these tragedies and they include far more than merely Second Amendment issues,” he continued. “We must do more than merely genuflect in the direction of these other issues.”
In a letter sent to the White House the day before the president’s announcement, the head of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) welcomed the national dialogue on preventing further gun violence, while expressing opposition to “knee-jerk policy responses” that would encumber citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Land wrote that the U.S. needs a complete review of its mental health system, echoing a call he made in 2011 after the Tucson, Ariz., shootings in which six were killed and 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, wounded.
Land told Baptist Press following that tragedy there was a need for a “better mental health system that can identify and deal with these human ticking time bombs before they go off.” The shooter in that case was sentenced to life in prison in November 2012.
In the January 15 letter, the ERLC president called on President Obama to “focus your efforts on practical means to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable, without adversely restricting firearms from law-abiding citizens.” He said the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms “remains one of the surest deterrents of gun violence in our nation.”
Land wrote that it was the arrival of armed officers at Sandy Hook, not a shortage of bullets, that ended the killings.
In the letter to the president, Land supported mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales. He also urged Obama to take the lead in making gun trafficking a federal crime.
The ERLC executive wrote, “We need to address the vastly increased prevalence of graphic violence in both popular entertainment and video games.” Obama’s announcement did not mention violence in films or video games.
During a mid-December interview on National Public Radio, Land said he had “no problem” with teachers carrying guns in their classrooms.
“Law-abiding citizens who are armed are the best last-ditch defense against the kind of horror that we’ve just experienced. If there had been teachers who had been trained and knew how to use their weapons, they could have saved a great many lives,” he said, referencing the Sandy Hook shootings.
Land, who said he is a gun owner but not a member of the National Rifle Association, told NPR he had no problem with loopholes in the background check system being closed. He also said a restriction on the size of ammunition clips was acceptable to him.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dwayne Hastings is a vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)