Saturday, January 05, 2013

Obama and the assault weapons ban

I want to single out one word in this section of Obama's December 30 interview with David Gregory on Meet the Press dealing with improving gun regulations:

GREGORY: Those are four huge things and you didn't mention after Newtown, although I know you're thinking about it, new gun regulations.


GREGORY: Mayor Bloomberg of New-- New York told me a couple weeks ago on this program that ought to be your number one agenda item. You know how hard this is. Do you have the stomach for the political fight for new gun control laws?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, David, I think anybody who was up in Newtown, who talked to the parents, who talked to the families, understands that, you know, something fundamental in America has to change. And all of us have to do some soul searching, including me as president that we allow a situation in which 20 precious small children are getting gunned down in a classroom. And I've been very clear that, you know, an assault rifle ban, you know, banning these high capacity clips, background checks, that there are a set of issues that I have historically supported and one will continue to support.

GREGORY: But can you get it done? I mean the politics...


GREGORY: the question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: the question is are we going to be able to have a national conversation and move something through Congress. I'd like to get it done in the first year. I will put forward a very specific proposal based on the recommendations that Joe Biden's task force is putting together as we speak. And so this is not something that I will be putting off. But...

GREGORY: The NRA says it's just not going to work.


GREGORY: It didn't work before. It's not going to work now.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, my response is something has to work. And it is not enough for us to say, “This is too hard so we're not going to try.” So what I intend to do is I will call all the stakeholders together. I will meet with Republicans. I will meet with Democrats. I will talk to anybody. I think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can't have a situation in which somebody with, you know, severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high capacity weapons that-- that this individual in Newtown obtained and-- and gunned down our kids. And, yes, it's going to be hard.

GREGORY: Do we have an armed guard...


GREGORY: every school in the country? That's what the NRA believes. They told me last week that could work.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I am not going to prejudge the recommendations that are given to me. I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem. And, look, here's-- here's the bottom line. We're not going to get this done unless the American people decide it's important.

And so this is not going to be simply a matter of me spending political capital. One of the things that you learn, having now been in this office for four years, is the old adage of Abraham Lincoln's. That with public opinion there's nothing you can't do and without public opinion there's very little you can get done in this town. So I'm going to be putting forward a package and I'm going to be putting my full weight behind it. And I'm going to be making an argument to the American people about why this is important and why we have to do everything we can to make sure that something like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary does not happen again.

But ultimately the way this is going to happen is because the American people say, "That's right. We are willing to make different choices for the country and we support those in Congress who are willing to take those actions." And will there be resistance? Absolutely there will be resistance.

And the question then becomes, you know, whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away. It certainly won't feel like that to me. This is something that, you know, that was the worst day of my presidency. And it's not something that I want to see repeated.

GREGORY: It hit close to home.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely. [my emphasis]
David Gregory is scarcely a aggressive, probing interviewer. But his pressing on this issue elicited the word "routine" from Obama. Without getting into any pop psychology, it confirms what was already obvious: Obama regards incidents of mass killing like the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords or the Aurora theater massacre as "routine" incidents. That is entirely consistent with his platitudinous response to them.

I don't expect Obama to make a serious push for a new assault weapons ban. If one gets to his desk, he might sign it. But the fact that he kicked it to Joe Biden and a "working group" to come up with an Administration approach was a clear sign he wants to continue to duck the issue.

But not entirely. He's in the middle of a six-month push to get a Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And to enact a series of austerity measures in the middle of a depression, measures which carry a high risk of throwing the economy into a new recession. He's needs some kind of bone to throw to his base. And going through the motions of supporting an assault weapons gives him one.

His phrases about how "something fundamental in America has to change" and "all of us have to do some soul searching" are things that liberals like to hear. But they are also ones that the supporters of gun proliferation can use in support of their look-over-there diversionary arguments, whether its The Mystery Of Evil or All Those Violent Video Games or whatever. His fatuous reference, "with public opinion there's nothing you can't do and without public opinion there's very little you can get done in this town," sounds like his "gee, what can I do, I'm only the President" excuse for why he can get bank bailouts and corporate subsidies passed but not stimulus to create jobs the Employee Free Choice Act. Or a new assault weapons ban.

I hope the President surprises me on this one.

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