President Obama didn’t just announce a gun control initiative at the White House today.
Instead, the president showed a passion and urgency on the issue that suggested that he is eager to actually take action, unlike his more modest posture after shootings in Arizona and Colorado over the last two years. He urged action on the issue “without delay” and listed a series of gun control bills he was ready to sign now.
He emphatically rejected the notion he was creating a “commission,” which in Washington usually means a slow-moving group that drafts proposals that are never enacted.
He specifically highlighted less-noticed shooting deaths in five other states since the tragedy in Connecticut on Friday.
When a reporter bluntly asked why Obama had done so little on gun control up to now, the president showed a hint of anger in defending himself, noting all of the other legislation he has pushed through that might benefit children like 20 who were shot in Newtown.
“I don’t think I’ve been on vacation,” the president snapped.
In holding a press conference to emphasize his new tact on gun control, Obama is taking his most assertive steps on the issue since he was elected. White House officials say the administration’s policy is likely to use a combination of executive orders and broader legislation to make it harder for mass shootings to happen in the future.
Some of the potential options, such as banning assault weapons and restrictions on certain kinds of ammunition, would require passing bills through Congress and getting support from Republicans who have signaled they remained opposed to gun control.
But other more incremental measures, such as improving background checks to make sure mentally ill people don’t purchase weapons and increased access to mental health facilities, could be done through Obama’s executive power.
“I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. We won’t prevent them all, but that can’t be an excuse not to try,” Obama said, in a nod to possible use of executive orders.
Obama’s press conference came in the midst of an unusual political moment on a long dormant issue. Democrats have long been wary of gun control, believing it costs them votes among rural, moderate and Southern voters. But the shooting of first graders has emboldened a few members of the party, such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, to announce they would support gun control measures. Even some conservatives, such as Fox’s Rupert Murdoch, have suggested greater gun control laws are needed.
At the same time, Obama emphasized he would call for gun control measures in his State of the Union Address next month, and he might need to use that kind of public forum to move Republicans on the issue. Only a handful of House Republicans have suggested they would back gun control legislation, and their support would be needed to enact new laws.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr