Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Robert David Jaffee Headshot

Calling for an Executive Order Banning Assault Weapons

Posted: Updated:

President Obama has said that he would rather be a good one-term president, than a mediocre two-term one. If he really means that then, in the wake of the massacre in Aurora, Colo. that has left at least 12 dead and 58 wounded, why doesn't President Obama issue an executive order banning assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines?

Not long ago, due to the failure of the Congress to pass the DREAM Act, he issued an executive order to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants. So why can't he do something similar now? Were he to direct federal authorities to stop the sale of these firearms and magazines, he could become not only a great president but also one of towering courage in the face of the gun lobby. And my guess is that he would still be reelected.

Yes, we all know that Al Gore may have lost votes to independent voters in swing states when he called for a ban on assault weapons in 2000, but Gore did not have the political gifts of Obama, who has shown that he can be a master storyteller. His ability to define Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch job outsourcer who has yet to release all of his tax returns and may be hiding something, demonstrates Obama's storytelling assets.

President Obama has also shown a very sophisticated understanding of criminality. For instance, after the Tucson massacre in January 2011, he cited the Book of Job ("When I looked for light, then came darkness") and stated that we need to "guard against simple explanations." He was not reckless with his language and did not blame the incident on mental illness. As he famously said in 2008, "language matters." He was right then, and he is right now.

Since the massacre in Colorado, many have called James Holmes, the suspected gunman in the case, a madman, crazed, deranged and mentally ill. I recognize that it is in the vernacular to do so.

Moreover, mental illness sometimes may play a role in these massacres, as appears to have been the case with Jared Loughner, the alleged Tucson killer, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Other times, as in the present case, there may be zero connection to mental illness.

Holmes was withdrawing from the University of Colorado because, according to reports, he was struggling academically in the neuroscience PhD program. My guess is that the onetime UC-Riverside honors student may have never faced the prospect of failure before, and he did not know how to handle it. For some people, like Steve Jobs, failure can be an opportunity to reassess your life and your priorities, to pursue something that you really love and to do so within a moral compass.

I dropped out of law school years ago at a time when I first started taking Prozac for my lifelong, major depression. I would later become psychotic in my early thirties, believing that I was going to be blamed for a series of murders sweeping across the nation.

But I have never been violent in my life. I got back on my medication, and I realized that I had to pursue writing, my true love, as a career.

Holmes, on the other hand, clearly lacked the character to rebound from whatever academic, personal and job failings he may have experienced.

Some, like NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, have suggested that Holmes may have been delusional in that he reportedly dyed his hair red and proclaimed to law-enforcement that he was the Joker, a villain in the Batman franchise.

That he dressed in a costume to the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises does not tell me that he was delusional or psychotic at all. Many people wear costumes to films, particularly films based on comic book, science fiction or cartoon characters. Many dress as villains. Consider all the Darth Vader impersonators on Hollywood Boulevard.

I would doubt that any of them are psychotic. They are simply engaging in their version of fun.

While I understand the desire for many to cite mental illness when a violent crime occurs, it is, as I have argued before, wishful thinking if we assume that only mentally ill human beings commit atrocities such as occurred in Colorado. Studies show, as I have stated many times before, that those with severe mental illness are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crime.

Still, I have been forced to accept that those in the throes of psychosis sometimes may premeditate their acts of violence. People can be in and out of psychosis at times. Perhaps, it is in those non-psychotic times that they rigorously plan their murderous rampages.

However, I want to emphasize that the vast majority of violent crimes are not committed by the mentally ill.

President Obama, sophisticated man that he is, knows that, and he also knows that if we are ever to end these massacres, he is going to have to issue an executive order banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines.