Max Felker-Kantor: Obama Should Treat Gun Control like LBJ Did Civil Rights

Roundup: Historians' Take

Max Felker-Kantor is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Southern California. He is currently working on his dissertation exploring riots, state response, and social movements during the 1960s and 1970s.

“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” President Barack Obama said in a statement responding to the fatal shooting of at least 26 individuals, including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut Friday morning. This shooting caps a year filled with mass shootings, including five killed in Georgia, seven killed in Oakland, six killed in Seattle, 12 killed in Colorado, seven killed in Wisconsin, six killed in Minneapolis, and three killed in Oregon (a full map is available here). The American people should take the time to mourn the loss of those killed in these senseless acts of violence. But they should also use them as a time for serious introspection into our collective psyche and culture.

Public debate and discussion about the role of guns and gun culture in American society must be a key component of that process. The question that many Americans will be asking is: Why did the shooting occur and how can we prevent another shooting in the future? It is not just that guns are available, it’s also the culture that surrounds them. It’s about the people and the tools, not one or the other. A comprehensive attempt at gun control would better inform Americans about gun safety and the hazards of guns. But how best to do that? I offer one possible solution: the power of federal government intervention through schools.

That’s what worked to change cultural attitudes toward blacks in the second half of the 20th century. In the 1960s, America was undergoing its most contentious transformation of the postwar era. An oft-cited refrain from Southerners then was that culture cannot be legislated. Southerners, in a show of massive resistance, opposed court-mandated school desegregation, arguing that acceptance of blacks would only occur in due time, not through court decisions or federal mandates....

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