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.
Croley grew up hunting deer with his father in DeWitt, outside Lansing, Mich., and went on to attend Yale Law School. He founded a boxing club, and was known to hand out black eyes and swollen lips. “He’d take down guys 40, 50 pounds heavier than him,” said Robert Riley, a friend at Yale and the son of former Alabama governor Bob Riley. A newsletter at Berkeley Law School, where Croley taught in 2000, advised new students to add the jazz pianist’s “Steven Croley Trio” to their CD collection and to “relax and enjoy drinks at Yoshi’s with this consummate pianist and tort therapist.” This fall, he will preview a documentary about Dutch farmers and gay residents in Saugatuck, Mich., that he made with his wife, Bridget M. McCormack. (She has a D.C.-Hollywood insider in her family: Her sister is actress Mary Catherine McCormack, who played deputy national security adviser Kate Harper in “The West Wing” and Mary Matalin’s blond associate in HBO’s “K Street.”)