Obama’s gun plan: Divide or conquer

If I were president, what would I do in the wake of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook School shooting, which left 20 first-graders and six adults dead, if I wanted not only to advance an ambitious initiative to reduce gun violence but also to sign a law that actually worked?

To punctuate what is at stake, I might launch my effort, as President Barack Obama did Wednesday, in a ceremony with children who had written to me after the school shooting.

I also might invite children scarred by the daily urban shootings, which don’t garner as much media attention as a mass shooting but nonetheless are often lethal.

I would make a personal appeal for a sensible solution.

I also would invite members of Congress, including pro-gun Democrats and Republicans, whose support I would need to navigate legislation through the House and Senate. Though I could tell people I don’t want to take away their guns or infringe upon “the individual right to bear arms,” gun owners would be likelier to believe those words if they came from a fellow gun owner.

I would acknowledge areas in which my administration could have done a better job enforcing existing law. I would sign executive orders requiring that federal agencies do a better job of tracking guns and disseminating background check information.

I would blame the shooter, although not by name, more than I would blame his instrument.

I would acknowledge the role of cultural influences, such as movies that sexualize violence. I also would take my Hollywood buddies to task for their role in glorifying gore.

I would ask about how mental health services might prevent more senseless violence in the future.

I would not push for an assault weapons ban, which few expect to pass through Congress, because I would know that the mere mention of such a ban would send customers to gun dealers and gun shows.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, doesn’t believe that President Obama wants to pass the best gun bill he can get. Paredes thinks the whole exercise is pure “political theater.”

That could be because Obama did only the smart things needed to pass those measures that reinforced his politics. He brought children to his gun violence event Wednesday who had written to him about the Sandy Hook deaths. The president, however, did not invite children to discuss urban violence — that is, the sort of crimes best addressed by tougher law enforcement, not gun restrictions.

The president spoke of his commitment to passing an assault weapons ban and a magazine-capacity limit. He also stood alone with the vice president — even though he needs members of Congress to succeed in a floor vote.

He could have pledged to work across the aisle. Instead, he pushed for a ban on assault weapons and a ban on magazines with more than 10 rounds — which might or might not pass in the Senate but surely would stall in the GOP-controlled House.

“I will put everything I’ve got into this,” Obama pledged.

But working with others is not in his toolbox.

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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