Via Mediaite. Carney usually looks uncomfortable to the point of constipation but I’m still surprised to see him so ill at ease and noncommittal in talking about this. Obama has the political wind at his back. Per ABC, 54 percent of adults now say they favor stricter gun-control laws, which is a bit higher (but only a bit) than polls have shown over the past five years. Longtime pro-gun Democrats like Harry Reid, Joe Manchin, and Mark Warner are chattering about a change of heart, no doubt in part because they’re afraid to cross a guy who just won 330+ electoral votes at a moment of high national emotion. If ever there was a time to pound the podium, this is it.
So why the conspicuous hedge? Probably because the White House knows that the public backlash to guns after mass shootings, at least until now, has been fleeting. O’s afraid to dive headfirst into the gun-control pool until he’s sure there’s some water in there. (That’s what all the “tipping point”/”this time is different” rhetoric from liberals was about this weekend.) But if even pro-gun Dems are giving him political cover, what does he have to lose by pushing the issue as hard as he can and daring Senate Republicans to filibuster whatever emerges? All that’s left of the Hopenchange brand is the idea that the GOP is scary and evil and loves rich people and dead children. That message got this guy re-elected; no sense to give up on it now. At the very least, if he can force a party-line vote in which Republicans filibuster a Democratic gun-control bill banning, say, high-capacity magazines, he might make enough GOP senators uncomfortable about being boxed in on that issue that they’ll try to compromise on other issues that are more important to him. If he’s lucky, depending upon how restrained the eventual Democratic bill is, he might even attract enough Republicans to get to 60. Murkowski can usually be counted on to cross the GOP in a pinch; Collins is a perennial wild card too. Those two, plus the increased number of Democrats in the next Congress will get him close if he can hold the Democratic caucus together. A new assault-weapons ban like Feinstein is proposing may be a bridge too far for Reid, Manchin, et al., but something more modest might be viable. Then, if it gets through, the House will torpedo it and Obama can get back to his scary-evil-Republican messaging, which might earn him an extra concession or two on immigration or the budget or whatever.
Incidentally, a data point from that ABC poll linked above:
You see now why the Journal thinks high-capacity magazines are a likely starting point for a new gun-control bill. Look at the other two results, though. Adults overwhelmingly oppose a total ban on guns but they marginally support a ban on semiautomatics, even though semiautomatics make up the vast, vast majority of guns. Per Tim Carney’s post this morning, talking about “semiautomatic weapons” is like talking about “gasoline cars.” That’s how common they are. If the public opposes those and yet also opposes a blanket prohibition on guns, it’s likely because some chunk of them is confused about what a “semiautomatic” actually is and does. Which is another way of saying that when you read opinion polls on this topic, take the results with a grain or two of salt.
Exit question: Jeff Greenfield argues that the immediate aftermath of a horrendous attack is precisely the right time to start a policy debate over solutions. Okay, but does that logic apply to acts of terrorism too? I know people on both the left and right who think that creating TSA and passing the Patriot Act in a flurry of Do-Something concern after 9/11 proved to be a panicky, ill-considered response to the attack that hasn’t done much to improve safety. Second look at the Do-Something approach, then?