White House

Facing Long Odds, an Angered Obama Vows Another Try on Gun Regulation

A president famed for his cool was visibly shaken; a politician noted for his calculation was ready for a fight he is likely to lose.

Mark Wilson AFP/Getty
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George E. Condon Jr.
Oct. 1, 2015, 8:18 p.m.

Amer­ic­ans saw an angry and frus­trated pres­id­ent Thursday even­ing, a pres­id­ent who has reached his break­ing point as yet more in­no­cent vic­tims of gun vi­ol­ence are coun­ted and yet more fu­ner­als are planned. For the 15th time in his ten­ure, Pres­id­ent Obama had to face the cam­er­as to some­how lead the na­tion in griev­ing the carnage left in the wake of a lone gun­man.

As he did the pre­vi­ous 14 times, he offered con­dol­ences to the griev­ing, pray­ers for the fallen, and in­vest­ig­a­tions for the facts. But gone this time was the sub­dued resig­na­tion that polit­ics in Wash­ing­ton and a hos­tile Con­gress keep him from go­ing fur­ther. This time, he vowed to go against those odds in a des­per­ate bid to make sure that nev­er again will he have to come to the White House brief­ing room to make what he bit­terly de­scribed as a now-routine speech.

A pres­id­ent famed for his cool was vis­ibly shaken; a politi­cian noted for his cal­cu­la­tion was ready for a fight he is likely to lose; a speak­er no­tori­ous for his fond­ness of the tele­prompt­er was quick to ig­nore his pre­pared re­marks and speak mostly from the heart. The frus­tra­tion was palp­able and ob­vi­ous through the long pauses, the grim de­mean­or, and the ap­peals to fel­low cit­izens he prays share his de­term­in­a­tion.

He has tried be­fore to change gun laws and didn’t deny that he may fail in this latest bid to pass laws mak­ing mass shoot­ings less likely. But he made clear that this is a fight he is eager to wage in his re­main­ing 15 months in of­fice. It is a battle he enters with his eyes open, already an­ti­cip­at­ing the press re­leases, the calls for more cit­izens to be armed, the cri­ti­cism that he is some­how politi­ciz­ing something that should be kept out of polit­ics.

His re­sponse was es­sen­tially what his pre­de­cessor once fam­ously de­clared: “Bring it on.” He all but dared the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation and its al­lies in Con­gress to op­pose him, out­right ap­peal­ing to gun own­ers across the coun­try to join his cru­sade. Mock­ing the well-prac­ticed ar­gu­ments against re­strict­ive gun laws, an ex­as­per­ated Obama asked, “Does any­body really be­lieve that?”

Noth­ing seemed to frus­trate the pres­id­ent more than that he was fol­low­ing an oh-so-fa­mil­i­ar script. This time, it was Umpqua Com­munity Col­lege in Ore­gon. But he had the script after Sandy Hook and Fort Hood, Bing­hamton and Au­rora, the Navy Yard and Char­le­ston. That he was once again speak­ing for a com­munity be­numbed by a bloody ram­page by a man with a private ar­sen­al of weapons, angered him. “This has be­come routine,” he com­plained. “The re­port­ing is routine. My re­sponse here at this po­di­um ends up be­ing routine. The con­ver­sa­tion and the af­ter­math of it, we’ve be­come numb to this.”

He knows that this routine in­cludes the push­back to what he is pro­pos­ing, a power­ful gun lobby that will ar­gue guns can­not be blamed for the in­san­ity of in­di­vidu­als, that gun own­er­ship is a con­sti­tu­tion­al right. An­ti­cip­at­ing that, he ar­gued, “We are not the only coun­try on Earth that has people with men­tal ill­nesses or want to do harm to oth­er people. We are the only ad­vanced coun­try on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shoot­ings every few months.”

Be­fore re­turn­ing to his pre­pared re­marks, he set a goal for his re­main­ing time in of­fice. “I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again dur­ing my ten­ure as pres­id­ent to of­fer my con­dol­ences to fam­il­ies in these cir­cum­stances.” But he has been through this too many times and he seems to know bet­ter. It was the one mo­ment where sad resig­na­tion briefly sup­planted the an­ger. “Based on my ex­per­i­ence as pres­id­ent, I can’t guar­an­tee that. And that’s ter­rible to say.” Then the an­ger and res­ol­u­tion re­turned to his voice when he de­clared, “It can change.”

The months to come will de­term­ine if pres­id­en­tial fury will work any bet­ter than his past, more-con­ven­tion­al lob­by­ing and speech­mak­ing.

‘We Collectively Are Answerable To Those Families’

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