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Obama's second-term agenda just added a new priority: gun control

December 19, 2012|By Doyle McManus
  • President Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, on Wednesday announces plans for task force to propose new gun control measures.
President Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, on Wednesday announces… (Alex Wong /AFP/Getty Images )

President Obama’s pledge on Wednesday to press for new gun control measures was an important commitment -- even if, despite his protests, it might look like just another Washington commission.

Only one week ago, gun control wasn’t on Obama’s second-term agenda at all. Now, after the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., it’s right at the top.

“I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” Obama said. “We won’t prevent them all, but that can’t be an excuse not to try.”

Obama directed Vice President Joe Biden to produce a plan, urged Congress to pass three long-debated measures (a ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips and a requirement for background checks before all gun purchases) and promised to return to the issue in his State of the Union address.

That’s a much deeper commitment to gun control than the president displayed during his first term. It reflects his own reaction as a father to the deaths in Newtown. But as I noted in my column Wednesday, it also reflects what may be a sea change in the political environment.

Obama didn’t merely win reelection in November; he won a surprising 51% of the popular vote. This week, the CBS News Poll found that Obama’s job approval rating has soared to 57%, its highest all year. Is that a mandate for a second-term agenda that goes beyond raising taxes on the wealthy? So far, it hasn’t been clear.

Most of the Democratic voters who just reelected Obama want to see stricter gun control; he owes them a good-faith effort to deliver. And in an era of austerity, gun control measures are a relatively low-cost item, easier to squeeze into a tight budget than energy initiatives or education funding.

The White House can move quickly, but Congress still moves slowly. Even the Democratic-led Senate will probably need months to act on any gun control proposals next year; by then, the passions stirred by Newtown may have cooled. Obama’s decision changes one important factor in that mix: By making gun control one of his top priorities, he has bound himself publicly to keeping the issue alive.

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