Friday, October 5, 2012

What Wasn't Asked In The First Presidential Debate of 2012?

I'm disappointed in Jim Lehrer.  Not because of Lehrer's poor performance in moderating the debate, nor because of the questions he asked the candidates, but because of the questions he didn't ask.  Held in Denver, Colorado, Wednesday's first presidential debate was a golden opportunity to ask the candidates their opinion on what they would do to reduce gun violence in America.  After all, the debate was held only a few miles away from the sites of both the Aurora theater massacre and the Columbine High School massacre.

It's not as if it's easy to forget the issue.  There were plenty of calls for such a question:

--> One of the Aurora shooting victims, 22-year old Stephen Barton, even spoke in a TV ad directed at Lehrer and the candidates (see the ad HERE).  Shot with 25 shotgun pellets, including serious wounds in the face and neck, Barton reminds the candidates that 48,000 people will be murdered with guns in the next presidential term.  Lehrer ignored him.  He expressed frustration that the issue of gun violence was not addressed.
 Barton, who was riddled with 25 shotgun pellets, is still recovering from some nerve damage. 
He said the lack of discussion suggests both candidates have put the Aurora shooting behind them. 
"They've moved on from what happened this summer and I really don't think the American people have moved on," Barton said. 
He says both Obama and Romney have "mixed records" on gun control and neither has fully explained his position on the subject. He doesn't plan to let up until they do.

--> Thirteen family members of slain Aurora shooting victims wrote an open letter to Lehrer, asking for questions to be asked.  Lehrer ignored them.  From that letter:
It’s time that next U.S. President discuss and provide possible solutions to the growing problem of gun violence in America; one that has affected so many communities already this year, including Oak Creek, WI, Minneapolis, MN, Old Bridge, NJ, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to name but a few. 
Mass shootings will happen again. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Thirty-two Americans will be murdered today. We just don’t yet know their names or the families or communities they come from. Their lives matter. We, as a nation, are better than this.
How can we continue to ignore the issue of gun violence when so many precious lives have been taken from us? 

-->  There was a concerted campaign on Twitter by various gun violence prevention organizations, activists, and survivors to send tweets to Jim Lehrer, asking him to ask relevant questions. I sent some tweets, too.  Lehrer ignored us.

--> The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence even spelled out some specific questions to ask.  Lehrer ignored them.

-->  State and national gun violence prevention organizations openly called for Lehrer to ask a question about gun violence.  The Brady Campaign even sponsored a petition at the website.  Lehrer ignored them.

But the real problem here is that the candidates have been silent about their plan to reduce gun violence.  While Lehrer should have asked, it is really up to the candidates to address this pressing national health crisis, without waiting until a debate moderator asks them to do so.

Daniel Gross, President of the Brady Campaign, sums it up best in a recent post by him:
Working with the Aurora families and every concerned American, we will continue taking every opportunity to show our officials and candidates that this is an issue of vital importance to the American people until -- that as a nation we know we are better than this -- until our elected leaders and candidates show us that they know it too.We represent the 87 percent of Americans who want better and stronger policies to prevent gun violence by their support for background checks on all gun sales. (Greenberg, Appendix A). 
We represent the 74 percent of NRA members who want a criminal background check on anyone purchasing a gun. (Luntz Global, Gun Owners Poll, July 2012). 
We represent the 96 percent of Americans who want background checks on all gun sales to screen out felons (CNN/2012). 
We represent the 76 percent of Americans who support registration of guns with local government (CNN/2012). 
The overwhelming majority of Americans believe we are better than a nation where mass shooting tragedies like the one in Aurora happen with such alarming frequency. We are better than a nation with 32 more gun murders every day. The American people know we are better than this.

Barack Obama has been silent on the issue of gun regulation while serving as president, with one, mild exception regarding assault rifles. 

Romney once supported strict gun regulation.  Now he's flip-flopped so much on the issue that, today, he received NRA backing.  The NRA has now started a campaign to rewrite Romney's history on the issue.  They wouldn't want their supporters to doubt their new, unlikely ally (until he flip flops back, of course).

The statistics quoted by Daniel Gross, above, remind us that the vast majority of Americans support stronger gun regulation, on a very wide range of regulative measures.  Pro-gun extremists often poo-poo such statistics, claiming that they are skewed somehow by the polling organization or sponsors of the polls.  Never mind that every credible poll that has been taken, by every major polling organization or news outlet, has supported stricter gun regulation.  HERE IS A LINK to the results from at least 66 different polls, dating from the present back to 1999, showing strong (70-90%) support for stricter regulation.  Those who want no regulation, or less regulation, typically represent 10% or less.

So who are our leaders representing, then?

It's time for our candidates to take a stand and answer the tough questions.  Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney, what do YOU intend to do in the next four years to reduce gun-related homicides, suicides, and accidents?  How do you intend to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, dangerously mentally ill people, and children?

UPDATE (10/13/12):  Mitt Romney today released a statement regarding his views on a number of topics, including gun regulation.  From an article:

He said he does not believe that the United States needs additional laws that restrict the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and believes in the safe and responsible ownership and use of firearms and the right to lawfully manufacture and sell firearms and ammunition. 
"[Mitt] recognizes the extraordinary number of jobs and other economic benefits that are produced by hunting, recreational shooting, and the firearms and ammunition industry, not the least of which is to fundwildlife and habitat conservation," his campaign said. "Mitt will enforce the laws already on the books and punish, to the fullest extent of the law, criminals who misuse firearms to commit crimes. But he does not support adding more laws and regulations that do nothing more than burden law-abiding citizens while being ignored by criminals. Mitt will also provide law enforcement with the proper and effective resources they need to deter, apprehend, and punish criminals."

Clearly, reducing gun violence by improving laws is not a priority for Romney.