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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, February 5, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesObama Adviser Tells UVI Audience Gun Violence 'Is Everywhere'

Obama Adviser Tells UVI Audience Gun Violence 'Is Everywhere'

Calling it “probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Harvard University law professor and judicial theorist Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. said the United States needs to confront its gun violence epidemic. His comments were made Friday night during the Alfred O. Heath Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of the Virgin Islands.

Ogletree’s lecture focused on how President Barack Obama may react to the string of mass shootings that have rocked the nation during his administration. He has some special insight into the president’s psyche as he was one of his Obama’s professors during law school and later served as an adviser.

At the beginning of his presentation, Ogletree entertained the crowd with anecdotes about the president as a student and later as a young politician, at one point jokingly claiming credit for coining the phrase “Yes, we can.”

His speech turned serious quickly, however, as he began to explore how gun violence has helped define Obama’s record on domestic issues.


“What happens when we see terrorism occur in the United States against children with the use of handguns? [Obama] was not prepared for this,” he said.

For almost five minutes, Ogletree read off a series of slides that detailed the types of weapons used and the number of victims from mass shootings that have occurred over the last 15 years. Some were well known and fresh in the public memory, such as the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and the Aurora, Colo., movie theatre attack. Others few had heard of.

The point of the exercise was to show that gun violence is a growing national problem that can affect any state in the country.

“You can’t say that you’re going to stop it in the south, or the east, or the north or the west. It’s everywhere,” he said.

So what can be done? Ogletree presented research that suggests stricter gun control laws result in less gun violence. He said this has been proven true both in states that have adopted strict gun laws as well as in foreign countries, such as England, Canada and Australia.

However, he was quick to note that the Second Amendment made gun control a tricky issue in the United States, not just for legal reasons but also because it has fostered a pro-gun tendency in our national culture.

Ogletree presented a pair of slides to illustrate this point. The first tracked the number of people killed in mass shootings since the 1980s, showing a distinct rise over that timeframe. The second tracked people’s stance on gun control during the same period. Even as the number of mass shooting has steadily increased, support from stricter gun legislation has eroded over the last three decades. In 2010, only 44 percent of Americans desired stricter gun control.

Ogletree stressed the need for compromise on both sides. He said that gun control proponents need to understand that the National Rifle Association isn’t going away, and that they represent the views of millions of American citizens. At the same time, he would like to see gun rights activists accept that there is a problem with the status quo.

He offered a few possible solutions, the first of which was the passing of “sensible” gun laws. He did not go into great detail on this topic, but he questioned the need high-capacity magazines several times during his speech.

Ogletree also said the country needs to rethink how violence is presented in our popular culture. He questioned what impact violent television and video games have on American children.

Ogletree offered a few suggestions for confronting the issue directly in the Virgin Islands. He said he approved of the territory’s strict gun control laws, but that something needed to be done about the amount of weapons coming into the islands illegally.

He said offering better education and job prospects to our children were key. He cited a report that found 19 percent of teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 in the Virgin Islands were neither in school or working. How could we expect some of theses children not to turn to crime, he asked.

He also addressed the territory’s gun buyback program. While he approves of the tactic in theory, he criticized the practice of paying cash for returned weapons.

“It makes no sense to give somebody who just gave you a gun off the street cash, because they upgrade. They get a better gun,” he said.

He advised handing out cards that could be redeemed for food or clothing instead.

Ogletree concluded by saying gun control was a complicated issue, but one the Obama administration would have to address.

“We have to do something. We have to respect the Second Amendment, but we also have to respect the fact that we want to live a long life, and if we’re going to do that, we have to do something as a society to get rid of guns,” he said.

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