Oh, it was good to hear the candidates mention gun violence last night! I feared the subject might get lost amidst the binders full of women.
But, finally, after all those folks — including a six-year-old — were shot in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater; after so many students — including those at Chardon High School in Ohio, at Walpole Elementary School in New Hampshire, at Millard South High School in Omaha, not to mention the kids at Virginia Tech — died, the moment arrived when we can have a serious discussion about how to rein in guns.
Or at least we could have.
Gun control did come up at the town hall style debate last night, thanks to Nina Gonzalez (one of the regular people who guided the debate with questions as good and pointed as those of any professional moderator). Gonzalez asked the president what he would do to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals — a fair question, given that Obama had said he wanted to do just that during his last presidential campaign.
Happily, the President went on to give families reason to hope that he might actually put some muscle behind an assault weapons ban in his next term. He said he supported the ban passed under Clinton in 1994, which expired after eight years and made it illegal to sell the military-style weapons now widely available in guns stores and gun shows. Though he didn't work to reinstate it in his first term, he could in his next.
Banning the guns like the AR-15, the type of rifle that was used to shoot off as many as 50 shots a minute in the Aurora massacre, would be a good first step. (Why exactly does the general public need access to a gun that can carry 100 rounds of ammunition and can shoot bullets that can go through two people?)
But Romney was clear he has no intention of banning assault weapons. Despite the fact that he supported similar legislation as governor of Massachusetts, he now stands — or perhaps, lies — with the National Rifle Association.
The flip-flopping should come as no surprise. But what came out of his mouth next on the topic of gun violence was a shock. In search of a culprit for the numerous shootings that have plagued our country, Romney came up with — not weapons makers, social alienation, or even shoot-em-up video games — but single moms.
Romney said he's not in favor of "new pieces of legislation on guns and taking guns away and making guns illegal," agreed with the President about the importance of good schools; and then went on to say this:
"Let me mention another thing — parents. We need moms and dads to raise kids. Wherever possible, the benefit of having two parents in the home. That's not always possible. Lot of great single moms and single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids, before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone. That's a great idea."
Americans should be alarmed about gun violence — parents especially. At least 5,740 children and teens were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009, according to a Children's Defense Fund report that was put out this year and dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin. That number includes 173 preschoolers, double the number of police officers killed in the line of duty.
But single parenthood is not the cause of our problem. And, whether getting married to someone is a "great idea," it probably won't affect the number of children gunned down in our country.
In an effort to be charitable, I can imagine that Romney was trying to say that gun violence is linked to urban poverty — and it is. Gun violence hits minority kids hardest, and most of the kids who die from gunshots live in cities.
But his leap to seeing single mothers as the cause of that poverty — and thus, if I understand his bizarre segue correctly — as the cause of gun violence is illogical and downright offensive.
Sure, single mothers' kids are more likely to live in poverty. But there is plenty of evidence that being poor is what leads to the single parenthood — rather than the other way around. Kathryn Edin, a professor of public policy at Harvard, provides perhaps the best exploration of this relationship in "Promises I Can Keep," her book on why poor women put motherhood before marriage.
If Romney really wanted to stop gun violence, he could support an assault weapons ban, as he did in Massachusetts. If Romney were really concerned about poverty, there are plenty of good ideas about how to address it directly. But he doesn't support raising the minimum wage (at least not clearly); his tax plan would help the rich and hurt the poor; he'd weaken social security; and he wants to shrink — rather than expand — the safety net.
So instead of taking on the gun industry or the roots of inequality, he blamed single moms. It was a strange tack — and one that not only did nothing to help solve our nation's gun violence crisis, it managed to offend a huge chunk of the voting public.