The moment gun control advocates have been hoping would come for years has arrived: America is about to have a national conversation about guns. But Democrats readying a new push for gun regulations following the shootings in Newtown, Conn. made it clear Wednesday they want it to be a short chat.
Short in Washington terms, that is. Democrats and gun control advocates said that although they think the gun control landscape has shifted fundamentally after the elementary school shooting, acting fast on guns is the best way to ensure something will get accomplished.
At the White House, President Obama held a press conference where he promised “very specific policy proposals” on guns will be included in his State Of The Union Address. Obama dispatched Vice President Biden to pull together a list of policy ideas by the end of January.
“This is not some Washington commission,” Obama said of the Biden task force. “This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now.”
Obama listed high profile gun deaths that have occurred since Newtown, amping up the pressure for quick action.
About an hour earlier on Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced a task force of her own, led by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), who described himself as an avid hunter. Like Obama, Pelosi said it should be easy to act quickly on guns, given that so many of the ideas being suggested by the pro-gun control side — a reinstatement of the ban on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as strengthened background checks for gun purchases — have been debated by Congress before.
“We have to respond,” Pelosi said. “It’s very complicated. It’s hard, but we can get it done.”
Both Pelosi and Obama said the country is different after Newtown, and where there was once reticence to embrace gun control there is now a national mandate. Gun control advocates agree, but they said Democrats are right to try and act as quickly as possible.
“Some of this plays back to Rahm Emanuel’s favorite line, ‘never let a good crisis go to waste,’” said Ladd Everitt, a spokesperson for The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
It’s a commonly-held belief that the farther back in history a tragedy like Newtown gets, the better chance the gun rights lobby has to beat back calls for new regulations. But Everitt said if the National Rifle Association and its allies are hoping to wait this one out, they’ve missed the mark.
“The political field on this issue is going to look at lot different from here out,” Everitt said. “[The NRA] going silent was a terrible mistake and I’ll tell you why: while they’ve remained silent, it’s been getting people angrier and angrier by the day. This has really outraged people that they’ve basically hid in the closet since this incident.”
NRA leaders are scheduled to publicly address Newtown for the first time at a press conference Friday. Everitt said it’s likely to be too little, too late when it comes to stopping the post-Newtown gun control momentum. But there are plenty of Republicans on Capitol Hill who’ve already said they’re ready to fight against it.
And that could be one of the reasons a need for speed was the central message of Democratic gun control efforts Wednesday.
At the president’s press conference, Obama suggested Everitt’s take on the shifting political sands for gun control was the right one. Still, he made it clear he doesn’t want a protracted fight.
“I would hope that our memories aren’t so short that what we saw in Newtown isn’t lingering with us, that we don’t remain passionate about it, only a month later. And as soon as we get those recommendations, I will be putting forward very specific proposals,” Obama said. “The idea that we would say this is terrible, this is a tragedy, never again, and we don’t have the sustained attention span to be able to get this done over the next several months doesn’t make sense. I have more confidence in the American people than that.”