By Jules Witcover
6:00 AM EDT, September 21, 2013
While President Obama focuses on pulling a rabbit out of a hat in his zigzag route toward chemical-weapons disarmament in Syria, the challenge of disarming "ordinary" weapons of human destruction at home continues to be brushed aside.
The latest domestic shootout, this time between an apparently mentally disturbed Navy veteran and combined local and federal police forces at Washington's well-fortified Navy Yard, has been greeted by the usual laments and empty responses.
The news of the slaying of at least a dozen innocent civilians filled local and national television and newspapers, this time with as much wonder and consternation as concern that it could have happened within a supposedly secure military installation in the heart of the nation's capital.
President Obama expressed his dismay, as he did earlier after the rampage against young schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn. But any public uproar this time around resembled the thunderous sound of one hand clapping. It seems the effective manner in which the National Rifle Association and other gun enthusiasts throttled Mr. Obama's earlier efforts to achieve modest new gun controls has taken the heart out of the anti-gun movement.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's heroic attempt to light a fire under it with his personal millions has only made him a target of the NRA, which paints him as a meddling outsider in the bastions of gun supremacy in the South and West. The recall of two Colorado state senators who dared to vote for stronger gun-control measures in their otherwise enlightened Rockies state was widely cheered by the gun lobby.
Ordinarily, one might have imagined that the Navy Yard shootings in the very shadow of Capitol Hill would have reignited the war on easily obtained firearms that flared up after the deadly episodes in Colorado, Arizona and Connecticut. Instead, what we have heard are regrets from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and others at the Pentagon about inexplicably loose security at the Navy Yard.
Mr. Hagel has said a thorough review is underway concerning the easy access of the deceased shooter to the Navy Yard with a contractor's security credentials. In retrospect, they never should have been issued to him in light of his history of weapons use and probable mental imbalance.
Mr. Hagel's promise is all to the good. But it says nothing about the continued easy access to guns with multiple-firing magazines of all varieties that enable possessors to turn even supposedly secure places like the Navy Yard into shooting galleries.
With President Obama's plate so laden with the crisis in Syria and the approaching threats of a government shutdown over budget and debt-ceiling issues, it can be expected that the fight against the gun lobby will again fall to Vice President Joe Biden. For all his earnest efforts, he lacks the bully pulpit of the president himself, which is currently focused elsewhere, with little public approval.
Mr. Obama, by luck or design or a combination of the two, finds his administration at the negotiating table over Syria's chemical weapons cache rather than launching missiles at that arsenal on the ground. Yet even this tentative progress is under fire by many who castigate Mr. Obama for being more concerned about the reported 1,400 Syrians killed by these weapons than about the more than 100,000 said to have perished in Syria's civil war.
It's the fate of any American president that, in Harry Truman's words, the buck stops at his desk in the Oval Office, and that buck can come in a variety of forms and in an endless barrage. This fact seems a particular reality in the Obama presidency for a certifiable do-gooder who came upon the national scene pledging to change the way Washington works.
But the current assaults on his attention, time and reputation come with the territory. Uunavoidably, it will take the utmost of his abilities to measure up, as he sees his tenure in the nation's hottest seat inexorably narrow.
President Obama seems endlessly to lament the problems he has inherited from his predecessor. Whatever their origin, at home or abroad, it has fallen to him to deal with them, and he will be so judged by his own decisions.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is email@example.com.
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