After four years of President Obama's leadership, government spending is up by almost $1 trillion. The federal debt is up almost $6 trillion. Poverty is up, as is the number of Americans looking for work. Meanwhile, median family net worth is down, as is median family income. Indeed, nearly every aspect of Americans' lives has deteriorated since Obama took office, with or without his involvement.
But there has been one unambiguous bright spot in the Obama era: Violent crime is down. In 2008, 14,224 Americans were murdered, 9,538 of them by firearms. In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, only 12,664 Americans were murdered, and just 8,583 of those deaths were caused by a firearm. For comparison's sake, more than 32,000 Americans died in automobile accidents that same year.
The best thing about Obama's success in driving down violent crime is that it required no effort on his part. Until yesterday, Obama rarely mentioned gun control at all and had not pressured Congress to pass any new controversial and divisive legislation. Yet there he was Wednesday in the White House, surrounded by children flown in from around the country, to promote 23 executive actions to prevent gun violence and push Congress to pass a new "assault weapons" ban.
"Get them on record," Obama said. "Ask your member of Congress if they support renewing a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And if they say no, ask them why not."
One reason a member of Congress might say no to an assault weapons ban is that just such a ban proved useless during the 1990s. The federal government's own National Academy of Sciences concluded that the body of scientific studies on the ban "did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence." A similar, narrowly defined ban would merely ban the sale of guns for their cosmetic features. A more broadly defined ban could clash with the Second Amendment. For example, it appears that Vice President Biden's famous Beretta -- the one he promised Obama would not take from him -- could be defined as an "assault weapon" due to the size of its magazine.
What is behind Obama's newfound love of gun control? Pressed by reporters on a conference call, White House officials failed to explain how any of Obama's new gun initiatives would have prevented the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy last month.
To be sure, some of the 23 executive actions that Obama proposed yesterday are perfectly legitimate and even vitally necessary. For example, Obama's 11th item, "Nominate an ATF director," should have been done years ago.
But much of Obama's legislative gun control agenda is ill-advised. Again, violent crime is falling rapidly, and members of Obama's own party, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have thrown cold water on the idea of sweeping gun control legislation. Obama's continued talk of a ban on ambiguously defined "assault weapons" and "military-style" guns smacks of demagoguery. It also threatens the implementation of more serious measures that would expand existing background checks and keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. These are still controversial, but at least they have some real connection to the mass shooting that started this ball rolling.
At some point, Obama has to be clear about his intentions. Is he trying to prevent another Newtown, or is he trying to make full political use of yet another crisis?