President Obama’s impassioned speech on Wednesday about the need to do more to end gun violence made it seem like he might be willing to push for new legislation. The next day, congressional leaders praised him for speaking out on the issue, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi saying Obama "provided leadership," and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid adding, "it’s something that needs to be done." However, Reid told CNN that congressional Democrats won’t be taking action, saying, "With the schedule we have, we’re not going to get into the debate on gun control." When pushed about whether Congress might put the issue on next year’s agenda, Reid smirked and said, "Nice try. Nice try, okay?"
In his remarks this week, President Obama was most specific on two points: Keeping assault weapons out of criminals’ hands and making sure "a mentally unbalanced individual" can’t buy a gun. At a press conference on Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney explained that the president’s position actually hasn’t changed since last week. He’s focused on actions "short of legislation and short of gun laws that can reduce violence," and still supports reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons, though he isn’t doing anything to urge Congress to act on the issue.
While leaders from both parties have made it clear they don’t actually intend to take up gun control now or at any point in the foreseeable future, one politician who has continued to loudly push the issue is Mayor Bloomberg. Days after he made the illegal suggestion that police officers go on strike (he later explained he didn’t mean it literally), Bloomberg penned a rare op-ed in the eponymous news service he founded, in which he outlines a strategy for ending the NRA’s stranglehold in Washington.
Bloomberg argues that the lobbying group’s ability to defeat candidates is “much more myth than reality,” and explains Republican Senator Tom Coburn has unintentionally provided a strategy for getting gun restrictions passed. In an effort to subvert Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, Coburn forced a vote on an “indefensible” ethanol subsidy. The subsidy was defeated after senators had to “choose between opposing what Coburn decried as an obvious ‘special interest giveaway’ or looking like spineless shills for Norquist.” Bloomberg writes:
The Coburn approach could be applied to guns. Elected officials who profess to be tough on crime but who also oppose tougher measures to stop illegal guns can’t be in two places at once — particularly when many law enforcement organizations support basic gun measures that simply don’t exist today. In the same way Coburn pointed out the ethanol-corporate welfare contradiction, a pro-gun senator can point out the obvious: It’s impossible to support police officers and law enforcement agencies and also oppose giving them the tools they need to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
While pushing gun restrictions is seen as a political loser, Bloomberg says, “political environments change, especially when strong leaders build coalitions and carve new paths through seemingly settled territory.” He insists that there are legislators who want to push new gun laws, and asks who has the “guts” to follow his plan. Somehow, it seems unlikely that congressional leaders will answer Bloomberg’s challenge.