In what is being seen by many as the finest speech of his presidency, President Obama on Sunday night said he would "use whatever power this office holds" to prevent mass shootings like the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. "We can't tolerate this anymore," he said. "These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change." Obama did not mention boosting gun control specifically, but his message could not have been clearer. "Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?" he asked. "Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
Obama's speech came hours after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced that she would introduce legislation to reinstate a ban on assault weapons that expired under George W. Bush. In addition, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a pro-gun senator who has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, said it was time for reform. (You may remember that Manchin once aired an ad in which he shot a mock-up of cap-and-trade legislation with a rifle.) Among gun-control advocates, there is a growing sense that the shooting in Newtown was so heinous, so shocking, that it will finally galvanize Congress to take action. "In the wake of the Newtown horror, it looks like we really may see some action towards meaningful gun law reform," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post:
Indeed, I’m cautiously hopeful that this time around, Democrats will overcome their typical skittishness on guns. As Nate Cohn has argued, the politics of this issue have changed: Democrats are less reliant on conservative, rural, gun-owning voters than at any time in the history of the party, due to Dem[ocratic] gains among socially moderate suburbanites, and ongoing demographic shifts that continue to boost the vote share among minorities and young voters — all voter groups who may not see "gun rights" as a potent issue.
And the political consequences of inaction may be far more damaging than preserving the status quo, says E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post:
If Congress does not act this time, we can deem it as totally bought and paid for by the representatives of gun manufacturers, gun dealers and their very well-compensated apologists. A former high Obama administration official once made this comment to me: "If progressives are so worked up about how Washington is controlled by the banks and Wall Street, why aren’t they just as worked up by the power of the gun lobby?" It is a good question.
However, it's important to recognize that the politics of gun control remain as difficult as ever, says Jonathan Chait at New York:
And even such halting progress is limited in the short run to whatever unilateral executive steps Obama can undertake. Those that require Congressional action simply have no chance of passage anytime soon. The House Republican caucus is dominated by ultraconservatives whose members reside in safe districts, and whose only chance of defeat is at the hands of a potential conservative primary challenge. Obama cannot sign any new gun laws unless they are passed by the House, the House will not pass any meaningful gun restrictions as long as it is controlled by Republicans, and Republicans will almost surely maintain control of the House until 2020, when the districts are redrawn.