Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The questions of why Adam Lanza burst into the Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday and left the horrific carnage in his wake may never be known for sure. So many of the lives he cut short for no apparent reason will be mourned until the end of days. No answers will ever satisfy the loved ones mourning for the lives that might have been.But, as the President said last night so movingly in reflecting on all the senseless murders that have occurred on his watch alone:
We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this.
The question facing him and the nation is whether we can and whether we will do very much to change the culture in this country. Are we genuinely ready to take on those forces in the gun lobby and their political allies despite the political costs? Are we ready to address these political fights the same way that the country changed its approach to big tobacco? Is their genuine bi-partisan congressional leadership prepared to engage the NRA—regardless of the political consequences? Will President Obama lead the nation as Lyndon Johnson tried to do in 1968 when he sought passage of comprehensive gun control legislation after the assassination of 1964 and 1968? Can a coalition of supporters in both Houses of Congress be mobilized to begin the tough legislative battle to re-ban assault weapons, to improve licensing provisions, and to restrict unregulated gun show sales? For how long will there be a public will to push political leaders to begin the long battle to change the status quo on gun ownership in America? Will it be done in time?
The answers to so many of these questions rest on the leadership of the President. Has he the ability and the willingness truly to lead the nation? The President must demonstrate that after four years in office he has learned to lead from the front of the pack. The initiatives must flow from the White House immediately after the first phase of the fiscal crisis is resolved; even before the inauguration.
This would be a signal that the next four years will be different and that President Obama is ready to lead the country. He spoke beautifully and touchingly in Connecticut. His task is to demonstrate that he will accept the political risks of trying to insure that Presidents never again need to deliver such speeches.