Pres­i­dent’s hes­i­ta­tion to act works to NRA’S ad­van­tage

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Mil bank writes for The Washington Post.


Barack Obama says we will change our ap­proach to gun vi­o­lence — some other day.

Near the site of the mas­sacre in New­town, Conn., Obama said on Sun­day night that he will take ac­tion “in the coming weeks” to pre­vent fu­ture car­nage — a sen­ti­ment White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney echoed no fewer than 16 times in his Mon­day brief­ing.

Will Obama push for more gun-con­trol laws?

“I would sim­ply point you to what the pres­i­dent said last night about mov­ing for­ward in coming weeks,” the spokesman said.

Will he join the ef­fort to re­in­state the as­sault-weapons ban?

“You’ll hear from him, I think, as he said last night, in the coming weeks, to speak more specif­i­cally about what he thinks we can do.”

Will he per­haps make it a fo­cus of his sec­ond in­au­gu­ral ad­dress?

“I don’t have any more de­tails to give you about how or when the pres­i­dent will ad­dress this is­sue in coming weeks,” Car­ney said, “ex­cept to cite what he said yes­ter­day about do­ing so in coming weeks.”

There’s only one prob­lem with the “coming weeks” ap­proach to gun con­trol: The weeks al­most never come. It’s nice to be de­lib­er­a­tive, and it’s par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult to act quickly now, a week be­fore Christ­mas and with the “fis­cal cliff” talks con­sum­ing the po­lit­i­cal world. But in the case of gun con­trol, a pat­tern has be­come per­sis­tent: A tragedy sparks an out­cry for com­mon­sense gun laws and gun groups are set back on their heels, but by the time Congress gets around to tak­ing ac­tion, the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion has re­gained its leg­isla­tive stran­gle­hold.

Now the win­dow has opened again — at the un­think­able price of 20 young chil­dren and seven adults dead. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia, a pro­gun Demo­crat, said Mon­day on MSNBC that he’s open to tougher laws. “Never be­fore have we seen our ba­bies slaugh­tered,” he said. An­other pro-NRA Demo­crat, Sen. Mark Warner of Vir­ginia, agreed that “the sta­tus quo isn’t ac­cept­able.” And gun-rights law­mak­ers are on the de­fen­sive; David Gre­gory re­ported that all 31 pro-gun sen­a­tors de­clined to ap­pear on “Meet the Press” on Sun­day.

But the NRA’s al­lies will soon re­gain their courage — which is why New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was cor­rect to say that “im­me­di­ate na­tional ac­tion” is what will work, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing loop­holes in back­ground checks for those who buy guns, re­in­stat­ing the as­sault-weapons ban and ban­ning high­ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines.

Pri­vately, Democrats are try­ing to cal­i­brate how force­ful to be; the is­sue has been a po­lit­i­cal loser for them. Yet even Harry Reid, the pro-gun Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader, is rec­og­niz­ing that some con­sid­er­a­tions may be more im­por­tant than pol­i­tics. On Mon­day, he of­fered a slightly more ur­gent twist on Obama’s phrase, call­ing for ac­tion “in the coming days and weeks.”

But the White House seems de­ter­mined to slow-walk the gun is­sue un­til it re­turns to ob­scu­rity, as seen in Obama’s call for ideas from his Cab­i­net rather than an im­me­di­ate leg­isla­tive push. On Fri­day, the day of the shoot­ings, Car­ney said, “To­day’s not that day” for a gun-con­trol de­bate — a rea­son­able po­si­tion. Three days later, “that day” still hadn’t come.

On Mon­day af­ter­noon, Car­ney again ap­pealed for pa­tience, point­ing out, cor­rectly, that “no sin­gle piece of leg­is­la­tion” will solve the prob­lem. But he had dif­fi­culty ar­tic­u­lat­ing why Obama wasn’t push­ing ahead with changes that are ob­vi­ously nec­es­sary.

Does the pres­i­dent see some ur­gency to take ac­tion in the short term? “I would sim­ply re­fer you to his re­marks last night when he talked about the ac­tion he hoped to take to en­gage the Amer­i­can peo­ple in the coming weeks,” Car­ney said.

Asked for some spe­cific ac­tions, he said: “I don’t have a se­ries of pro­pos­als to present to you. Again, the pres­i­dent spoke yes­ter­day about mov­ing for­ward in the coming weeks.”

The longer Obama waits, won’t peo­ple be more likely to re­turn to their hard­ened views on guns? Car­ney pre­dicted that “in a few weeks or a few months,” the pain from New­town will “still be in­cred­i­bly in­tense.”

What about Bloomberg’s de­mand for im­me­di­ate ac­tion? “He didn’t, you know, talk about months or years,” Car­ney replied. “He said coming weeks.”

ABC News’ Jake Tap­per pressed the spokesman for one ac­tion Obama had taken to ad­vance his call for re­mov­ing “weapons of war” — mil­i­tary-type guns — from Amer­i­can streets.

“He will in coming weeks use the power of his of­fice to try to help make that change,” Car­ney said.

But if you be­lieve the cur­rent na­tional mood will be the same in the coming weeks, you’ve got an­other thing coming.

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