There’s only one problem with the “coming weeks” approach to gun control: The weeks almost never come. It’s nice to be deliberative and thoughtful, and it’s particularly difficult to act quickly now, a week before Christmas and with the “fiscal cliff” talks consuming the political world. But in the case of gun control, a pattern has become persistent: A tragedy sparks an outcry for common-sense gun laws and gun groups are set back on their heels, but by the time Congress gets around to taking action, the National Rifle Association has regained its legislative stranglehold.
Now the window has opened again — at the unthinkable price of 20 young children and seven adults dead. Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a pro-gun Democrat, said Monday on MSNBC that he’s open to tougher laws. “Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered,” he said. Another pro-NRA Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), agreed that “the status quo isn’t acceptable.” And gun-rights lawmakers are on the defensive; David Gregory reported that all 31 pro-gun senators declined to appear on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
But the NRA’s allies will soon regain their courage — which is why New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) was correct to say that “immediate national action” is what will work, including eliminating loopholes in background checks for those who buy guns, reinstating the assault-weapons ban and banning high-capacity magazines.
Privately, Democrats are trying to calibrate how forceful to be; the issue has been a political loser for them. Yet even Harry Reid (Nev.), the pro-gun Senate majority leader, is recognizing that some considerations may be more important than politics. On the Senate floor Monday, he offered a slightly more urgent twist on Obama’s phrase, calling for action “in the coming days and weeks.”
Still, the White House seems determined to slow-walk the gun issue. On Friday, the day of the shootings, Carney said, “Today’s not that day” for a gun-control debate — a reasonable position, given the raw tragedy. Three days later, “that day” still hadn’t come.