In our do-it-now/show-results-immediately culture, President Obama’s January deadline for recommendations to reduce gun violence might seem woefully slow. Don’t fall into that trap. By Washington standards, the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday has pushed the issue of gun violence to the top of the national agenda. And it has pushed the nation’s leaders into action far faster than did any of the other massacres that have befallen this nation.
The grumbling started soon after Obama’s tear-filled address to the nation Friday afternoon. “[W]e’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” he said from the White House briefing room. But he didn’t say what ‘meaningful action’ meant.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change,“ Obama said in Newtown on Sunday night. “Surely, we can do better than this.” Some folks complained that he didn’t say how “we must change.”
In both instances, that was neither the time nor place for such an overt political message. Obama’s role was as consoler in chief. Today, the president did the right thing. He tasked Vice President Biden with an interagency review that will present him with a comprehensive list of recommendations to reduce gun violence that Congress can vote on. The no-brainer ideas are a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, in addition to requiring background checks.
Obama wants to have it all done in time for his State of the Union address, perhaps in early February. Pulling together the list of recommendations, even drafting the legislation is the easy part. So is talking about the scourge of gun violence and all that needs to be done to reduce it. But the hard part is turning all this anger and urgency into legislation that becomes law. And doing it quickly.
The National Rifle Association broke its noticeable silence on the Newtown tragedy on Tuesday. It said it “is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” Given its rabid opposition to even the most common sense reform, I’ll believe it when I see it. But no matter what the gun lobby does, the president and Congress must stare down those who would thwart their efforts to forestall the next massacre.