Unacceptable, yes, but the way politics works in Washington when you have a president with a 41 percent approval rating, and his party’s control of the Senate hanging by a thread, the better part of valor on the part of the White House is to back off, at least for now.

“This is about Rand Paul making guns a signature issue in his run for the presidency,” says Kessler, who has tracked gun issues since he worked as an aide in the Senate. He points out Paul pushed an amendment to a bill that moved through the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee last month to allow people to carry concealed weapons into post offices. A compromise was worked out to allow concealed weapons in your car in the parking lot. “He’s out of step with some Republicans because he’s a libertarian, so he’s making a stand on guns,” says Kessler. “It’s part of his plan to win New Hampshire and South Carolina [primaries], and he’s looking for places to highlight that issue where no gun legislation has gone before.”

If Democrats are now siding with Rand Paul, it’s because the NRA has weighed in. But this may not be the last word on Vivek Murthy. “We expect this is something they will put in their hip pocket and save for the lame duck,” says Paul’s aide. “The lame duck is when you do things that are unpopular. You don’t have to worry about the electoral backlash.”