Friday's tragic killing of six adults and 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., will go down in history as a game-changer in American culture and politics. Not only was the loss of innocent life nearly too great to bear — death stole God's littlest, wounding us deeply and making the pain linger longer — but the ensuing talk among politicians has struck a new, strident tone.
It's almost as if the debate on gun control has come to an end. Suddenly, senators with solid pro-Second Amendment views, like West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Virginia's Mark Warner, are backpedaling — suggesting their minds are open to stricter laws. The NRA shut down its Facebook page and halted its daily tweets as hateful anti-gun comments spewed forth. And mainstream media pounced, led by CNN's leftist Piers Morgan who, just hours after the shooting, demanded in shrill tones for America to "get angry" and give up its guns.
By Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney had this to say, in response to a reporter's questions about President Obama's policy plans for gun control: "As you know, the president has taken positions on common sense measures that he believes should be taken to help address this problem. But he made clear that more needs to be done. That we as a nation have not done enough, clearly, to fulfill our number one obligation, which is to protect our children."
What's significant about Mr. Carney's comments is the last statement — that part where he snicks in the chief role of the administration he represents is to protect children.
It's not. The president's chief role is to uphold the Constitution. That is, after all, what the president takes an oath to defend — not the children.
Article 2, Section One, of the Constitution states: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
That may be an unpopular view in this day and age of government entitlements, and especially harsh in the emotional wake of Friday's killings, when the nation is clamoring for answers and understanding and politicians from both parties are struggling to provide some solutions. But the simple facts are: Our government is not a parent. Our government is not a family guardian. Our government is not God.
As a matter of fact, for the president, constitutionally awarded powers are surprisingly slight. He's commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy and the National Guard; he can make treaties, with the aid of the Senate; he can appoint Supreme Court justices, ambassadors and executive officers; he can fill vacancies by granting commissions for a certain period of time. He's supposed to be constrained; the Founding Fathers did not want a king.
Demanding a clamp-down on constitutionally protected gun rights just hours after a tragedy is morally weak, as it takes advantage of an emotionally charged atmosphere to advance a political agenda better left to logical minds and rule of law. But it is also political cowardice. Politicians should have the strength of character to be true leaders — and that means standing by principles in good times and in bad, against gale-force winds as well as balmy breezes. True leaders don't try to take advantage of others; true leaders stand strong against a storm, wait for calm to prevail, and trust in the principles that put them in a position to lead.
Leaders of character wouldn't piggyback legislation on Newtown's children. That the president's administration is fueling the drive for gun control with a "for the children" argument is a dangerous development that threatens to chip away more from our constitutional freedoms and degrade even further our American core: Rights come from God, not government.
In July, the White House stance on gun control, according to Mr. Carney, was this: "There are things that we can do, short of legislation and short of gun laws, as the president said, that can reduce violence in our society. We do need to take a broader look at what we can do to reduce violence in America. And that's not just legislative, and it's not about gun laws."
Where's that viewpoint now?
Let the mourning proceed, unfettered by politics. Anything else is just agenda-driven hysterics, perpetrated by either well-meaning, heart-broken observers who simply don't know the facts, or worse, by all-knowing politicians who hate to let a good crisis go to waste.
Cheryl K. Chumley is a digital editor for Times247.