On Thursday, President Obama addressed critics that argued he waited too long to push through sweeping gun control reform in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on Dec. 14, 2012.
His message to the country, paraphrased, in so many words: ‘I have not forgotten about Newtown.’
Before a group of gun control advocates and family members of gun violence victims, who had gathered in the East Room of the White House, Obama alluded to a POLITICO article that alleged the president had dropped the ball on gun control.
“I read an article in the news just the other day, wondering is Washington, has Washington missed its opportunity because as time goes on after Newtown, somehow people start moving on and forget,” said Obama. “Let me tell you, people here don’t forget.”
“The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened at Newtown happens, and we’ve moved on to other things? That’s not who we are. That’s not who we are,” Obama said.
Then, as if trying to remind the entire country as to where his legislative priorities lie, he continued:
“I want to make sure every American is listening today. Less than 100 days ago that happened. And the entire country was shocked. The entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time would be different. Shame on us if we forgot. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we forgot.”
In the POLITICO article that Obama was referencing, one of the central critiques lobbed at the president was that instead of calling for a vote on a gun control bill within days or weeks of the tragedy, he wasted precious time passing the ball to Vice President Joe Biden’s task force, which arguably dithered for weeks before coming up with measures that were obvious to most gun control supporters from the outset: universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on magazines that hold more than ten rounds.
Were the president to take a more aggressive approach, capitalizing off the momentum in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, critics from the gun control side believe tougher gun laws could have been passed–so they are not to happy with the commander in chief.
POLITICO asked Newtown’s Mayor (First Selectman) Patricia Llodra, would things have been different if Obama had moved more quickly?
“Yes, absolutely,” said Llodra. “I think it would have been much more difficult to vote against change when we were still in that immediate, that first ring of response.”
Many point to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s response, the passage of the NY SAFE Act, as an example of effective political opportunism in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. Of course, as noted in a recent Guns.com article, the NY SAFE Act has been shrouded in controversy and appears to be growing evermore unpopular.
Others suggest that the president got distracted or lost focus with the sequestration debate. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney seemed to acknowledge that budgetary issues have monopolized much of the president’s time.
“The president has been engaging with lawmakers of both parties on these issues,” Carney said. “When he has been having conversations with Democrats and Republicans, much of the attention has focused on fiscal and budget issues in the reporting, and much of the conversation has been devoted to those topics.
“But they have also included conversations about comprehensive immigration reform and moving forward on gun violence measures,” Carney added.
With respect to how he’s handled gun control, Obama does have some defenders. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told POLITICO that Obama and Biden have done all that one could possibly do.
“They’re not in the Senate,” Leahy said. “The Senate moved it, I moved it, and I moved it quickly.”
“This was faster than just about any other piece of major legislation, with or without Newtown.” Leahy continued. “I don’t know what else we could have done.”
Moving forward, Obama promised results – despite swelling opposition from gun rights organizations and waning public support for gun control legislation.
“The reason we’re talking about it here today is because it’s not done until it’s done,” he said. “And there are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock or changing the subject or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all. They’re doing everything they can to make all our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration or their assumption is that people will just forget about it.”