The shooting spree that took place on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, US, killing 27 people, including 20 of the school’s students, shocked not only the American people, but also the world. The incident has added to the series of mass killings in the country, where individual gun ownership — and gun violence — has long been a distinctive feature of society.
In a speech at a memorial service for the victims on Sunday, US President Barack Obama vowed to “use whatever power his office holds” to prevent such massacres in schools from recurring, hinting at a fresh effort to curb the spread of guns, and stressed that “these tragedies must end”.
Obama has long supported the restoration of the assault weapons ban, which was first passed in 1994 and expired in 2004. The idea, however, brought backlash from supporters of gun rights and contributed to costing the Democrats control of Congress.
Although pursuing such legislation might be a long and winding road, Obama needs to look at all possible legal avenues in order to prevent the repetition of such incidents.
The Obama administration can also pursue anticipatory measures that have been successful in significantly reducing crime rates in other places, including gun shootings in New York — the city declared as the most violent place in America in the 1990s.
Measures imposed in the 1990s, like the “Comp-Stat”, a crime-mapping system, the “broken-windows” strategy, which focuses on restoring order to communities and the recently introduced “Operation Impact”, a program that floods troubled areas with police, have helped to curb crime rates in New York City.
Those measures exclude the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy, under which people suspected of criminal activity are stopped and checked for weapons. New York City Police commissioner Ray Kelly said as quoted by the London-based publication The Economist that such proactive policing had saved over 5,600 lives between 2002 and 2011.
President Obama could seize this momentum to take necessary actions to prevent future murders, or at least push them to a minimum. It might not be productive in terms of pure politics, but it might win the support of the majority of American people.