The silence of Steve Croley, the White House’s point man on gun regulation policy, echoes the decision by Democrats to remain mute on guns as a national issue, even in the wake of the Tucson rampage. Croley’s keep-your-head-down approach is in keeping with President Obama’s preference for low-key wonks, but in this case, his reticence has more to do with political reality: Democrats have no plans for serious gun-control initiatives, and the Gabrielle Giffords tragedy, as heart-rending as it was, hasn’t changed their minds.
The result for Croley is a tree-falls-in-the-woods conundrum: If President Obama, like just about every leading Democrat, has abandoned the issue, does the administration’s gun policy even exist? Croley is undeniably present, but he doesn’t make a sound.
The buzz-cut gun owner with sharp cheekbones and a genius for regulatory law is, according to multiple advocates, on a “listening tour.” Activists with whom Croley has conferred described him as enigmatic, though their conversations have yielded certain strong impressions. Croley, who since August has been Obama’s assistant for justice and regulatory policy, favors closing a loophole in the law that allows unlicensed gun dealers to sell arms without background checks, especially at gun shows. His background in administrative law has especially prepared him for figuring out how state agencies can make their records readily available to a federal gun database.
One area in which Croley has shown less interest, according to several people who have spoken with him about the issue, is restricting the large-volume ammunition magazines that allowed the Tucson shooter to keep firing. When Paul Helmke, director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, broached the subject during the March 15 gathering with Croley, officials promptly adjourned the meeting.
Croley, who characteristically declined to speak for this article, has a broad portfolio including good government and transparency issues, civil rights, food safety and criminal justice policy. Guns have accounted for only a small part of his workload, and it’s an issue with which he has little experience. But Croley’s friends and colleagues describe the 45-year-old University of Michigan legal scholar as an extraordinary man of catholic interests and talents.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more presentable face for the administration to spotlight on the gun issue.