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Why Obama Misfired on Gun Control

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted 54-46 to defeat an amendment that would have required broader background checks on gun purchases. The amendment, sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin and pushed by the White House and its supporters, was the last hope for any kind of gun control bill in this Congress, and probably for President Obama’s presidency.


In the lead up to the vote, the president enlisted all kinds of help for his gun control efforts: Vice President Biden, recent opinion polls on the subject, and even, most gallingly, the parents of the Sandy Hook victims, who were shuttled to Washington, D.C. on Air Force One and enlisted as lobbyists.

Yet the cumulative effect of these efforts was nil. Why? A few explanations.

First, this effort gives lie to the Rahm Emanuel theory of never letting a tragedy go to waste. President Obama, who took no action on gun control after the Fort Hood shooting or the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, believed this was the moment for passing sweeping gun control measures. Surely Americans would follow his lead after the murder of so many innocent children.

Yet from the outset, the president and his allies were playing from behind. There are political and procedural reasons for this, but a more basic reason could be this: Americans, unlike our hyper political president, do not see tragedy as an obvious springboard for partisan political ploys.

Most Americans express sorrow, sympathy and compassion after tragedies, as in the outpouring of prayer and support following the Boston Marathon bombings. Those sentiments may give way to some form of action, but few Americans react the way true Leftists such as our president do: as seeing tragedy as an opportunity to accomplish political bucket list priorities.


Second, the failure of gun control legislation teaches this lesson: do not outsource legislative efforts to task forces or commissions. After Sandy Hook, the president fell prey to the oldest (and least productive) inclination in Washington: to set up a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. Worse yet, the president put “shoot ‘em with a shotgun” Joe Biden in charge.

Commission-based legislating is a tried and true method for accomplishing nothing. Other examples include the Simpson-Bowles commission, President Bush’s commission on Social Security reform, and the proposed commission to study border security lodged within the recent immigration reform proposal. Commissions are proper vehicles for after-action analysis, e.g., the 9/11 Commission, not legislative accomplishment.

Third, and related, the gun control failure teaches that presidential leadership is necessary, but is only effective when offered by an effective communicator. Just as the Biden task force failed to move public opinion enough, so did President Obama. He constantly claimed that 90% of Americans supported expanded background checks, but he failed to connect expanded background checks to child safety, and perhaps for good reason: there is no connection.

Adam Lanza’s mother Nancy Lanza was an experienced shooter and knowledgeable gun owner. She would have passed the background checks contemplated by the Senate amendment. Thus is demonstrated the divide between the amendment and the scenario it was supposed to prevent.


The president also relied too heavily on the “bully” portion of his bully pulpit, calling out the NRA and condemning those who speak up for the constitutional right to bear arms. It was always a given that the Second Amendment was not Obama’s favorite amendment, but his public denunciations of those committed to this fundamental right accomplished nothing.

Fourth, the gun control failure teaches that gun rights, more than many other issues, are less susceptible to emotional ploys and legislative efforts born of tragedy. Enough Americans have an emotional connection with guns or gun rights to roadblock what was an admittedly limited effort at “gun control.” Four Senate Democrats, including one not up for re-election in 2014, voted against the Toomey/Manchin amendment.

Politico has termed this defeat one of Obama’s biggest losses based upon the president’s personal involvement and his commitment to gun control. This analysis, whether true or not, reveals the divide between our president and the nation. His priorities are not the nation’s. Gallup released a poll this week showing that only 4% of Americans list gun control as a priority.

During his Rose Garden remarks after the Senate vote, the president lamented that “politics” was to blame for the defeat of the amendment. This is an ironic statement given its source. The man whose presidency gave rise to the Tea Party, who delivered the most partisan Inaugural Address in our nation’s history, and who created the idea of the permanent campaign and transformed his campaign apparatus into a lobbying organization, cannot credibly claim to be disappointed by the results of “politics.” Given the measure’s admitted inability to prevent another Sandy Hook, it is hardly surprising a purely political gesture suffered a political defeat.


Sandy Hook, Tuscon, Aurora and Fort Hood were all national tragedies. The failure to pass this “gun control” measure was not.

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