President Obama on Wednesday launched a gun-violence task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, that will be charged with offering recommendations by January on how to prevent massacres like the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. "The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Obama said. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence." Furthermore, Obama called on Congress to vote on several measures that a "majority of Americans support," including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, as well as background checks for all prospective gun buyers.
It was Obama's most explicit call for gun control since the Newton tragedy, and represented the first time that a sitting president has even discussed the issue with any seriousness for years. But the creation of another presidential commission — the place where good ideas die before they even get to the mass graveyard of Congress — looked a lot like a classic political dodge. Obama, well aware of the sketchy reputation of task forces and the like, even went so far as to say that his Washington commission "is not some Washington commission."
So is the gun-violence task force a copout? "Appointing a task force on guns seems a little mealy-mouthed to me," says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast:
Obama's style is to be deliberative, gather evidence. It's a lot better than shooting from the hip on general principle. But sometimes there's a public mood out just waiting to be caught and exploited before it dissipates and before the opponents can confuse and redirect it.
Right now, there is an opportunity to make a very simple and straightforward statement: We need far, far tougher regulations on the kinds of guns that exist only to kill large numbers of human beings very quickly, and the ammunition that goes in them.
Well, of course the task force "will undoubtedly frustrate many in [the Democratic] party who want immediate action," says Byron York at The Washington Examiner:
Obama's move will likely dissipate the energy behind gun control advocacy on Capitol Hill. It's unlikely that even the most pro-gun-control Democrats would want to get out in front of the Biden Commission and pass specific measures. And the political world, and the emotional intensity behind the gun issue, could be quite different even a month from now. So Obama is stopping Democratic momentum, and he knows it. Republicans know it, too.
However, some liberals are more optimistic. Obama's action "demonstrates what presidential leadership on this issue is supposed to look like," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post:
Obama didn't take refuge in generalities; he staked out very specific policy goals that need to be achieved. He voiced support for banning the sale of military style assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips, and for requiring background checks before "all" gun purchases… He tasked his Vice President to draw up ways to accomplish these goals, and also called for a Congressional vote on them in January. That means Obama understands the need not to let public sentiment dissipate on the issue, and for a specific time frame for legislative action.