Protest has returned to Egypt’s Tahrir Square; the Bears won their fifth in a row; a man stands accused of strafing the White House; China warns of a long recession.
Wait a minute. Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez was arrested in connection with what prosecutors describe as a drive-by shooting in which a semiautomatic weapon was used to fire nine bullets into the White House’s back balcony – where President Barack Obama sometimes strolls on a break. This should get more attention than a passing headline.
Authorities say Ortega-Hernandez drove his Honda to a road about 800 yards from the White House, stopped, and unleashed a volley from a Romanian-made semiautomatic rifle with a “large scope.” The FBI located “several confirmed bullet impact points” on the south side of the White House where the first family’s residential quarters are located.
This should be treated as a wake-up call. It is time to revive the ban on assault weapons, and look once more at the level of gun violence in this country. Under a federal assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004, there was a 60 percent drop in assault-weapon deaths. We need to enforce universal background checks on every gun transfer and prohibit all violent criminals from possessing firearms.
Nearly 30,000 people a year die as a result of gun violence in the United States. About 100,000 a year are injured and require medical treatment and hospitalization that contributes to our public-health crisis. Fifty-caliber sniper rifles and firearms that combine long range, accuracy and massive firepower are not used for hunting animals – they are military weapons used to hunt people. These weapons can damage large targets, penetrate structures and bring down airplanes.
We created the Department of Homeland Security and are spending tens of billions of dollars to counter the threat of terrorists. And then states and Congress act to loosen our gun-control laws and open up sale of assault weapons. The House has just voted to override state laws, making it legal to carry a concealed weapon from states that allow them into states that outlaw them.
It is reported that Ortega-Hernandez had legal problems in Idaho, Texas and Utah, including charges related to drug offenses, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer. He is reported to have told friends that he believed the president is the “Antichrist” and “needed to be taken care of.” Yet he was able to obtain a deadly semiautomatic assault weapon.
This shooting comes as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords courageously made her return to the House, recovering from being shot in the head by a semiautomatic-wielding assassin who killed six and wounded 13. It comes after the multiple college-campus and high-school shootings that have stunned the country over the past years. Last year, FBI crime reports show that 8,775 out of 12,996 total murders in the U.S. were committed using firearms. The U.S. experiences about three times the level of gun violence as a country like Great Britain.
Due to the power of the gun lobby – led by the National Rifle Association – our gun laws are becoming weaker, not stronger. More Americans now own a gun on their property than any time since 1993, and for the first time, a majority of Americans are against a ban on assault rifles and semiautomatics. Few politicians want to touch the issue.
But we’ve come to the point where a mentally unstable person is strafing the White House with a semiautomatic assault weapon. That should startle every citizen. None of us is safe in a nation where assault weapons are readily available.
We don’t need to wait for another leader to be shot.