The politics of gun legislation in Washington are daunting, and there is little momentum for change.
Gun-reform advocates are shifting their attention to the states.
Nowhere is the gulf between Barack Obama’s once intoxicating calls for change and entrenched political reality wider than on gun control.
After yet another gun massacre followed his inability to enact even modest gun control during his administration, the graying president spent Thursday and Friday railing against gridlocked politics and the power of the gun lobby.
And as he beseeched the American people to act, it seemed that even the man who once preached “we are the change we seek” had begun to lose faith in the capacity of politics to bend the curve towards reform.
“This is not something I can do by myself,” Obama said in an emotional White House appearance Thursday evening after nine people died in a shooting at a community college in Oregon.
“It will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision,” Obama said.
His remarks Thursday and again during a news conference Friday when he vowed to keep talking about the issue were not just a reflection of frustration, but also of personal failure.
Since his push to enact a ban on assault weapons and wider background checks for gun owners collapsed on Capitol Hill in 2013, gun control has slipped down the list of White House priorities, below a legacy-building Iran deal, an opening with Cuba and reform of the immigration system.
Obama, by his own admission, has now become little more than a grim scorekeeper after mass gun massacres – a role that on Thursday night he bitterly complained has become routine. He seems destined to turn off the lights at the White House in 16 months without substantial change on gun legislation. In office, the guns issue has been much more nettlesome than it appeared during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Obama said it should be possible to get illegal guns off the streets and prevent them from falling into the hands of the mentally ill.
“What we have to do is get beyond the politics of this issue and figure out what, in fact, is working,” Obama said at a presidential primary debate in Philadelphia.
Seven years on, Obama is still struggling to get past those politics – but some gun-rights advocates believe he has tried his best.
“The general idea that the president hasn’t done enough – I just don’t see that at all – he was physically sick yesterday,” said Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“He can’t run Congress, he can’t cast congressional votes.”
Though the White House push to overhaul gun legislation failed in 2013, Obama did order 23 executive actions designed to reduce violence with firearms, though he admitted congressional action would be much more meaningful.
The White House says it has made progress on all the measures, including those requiring federal agencies to share information on the background check system, to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations and to review standards for gun locks and safes.
But those measures are small ball in a nation swamped by hundreds of millions of guns and where the politics of the issue are shaped by the political muscle of the National Rifle Association.
Clinton: Republicans ‘put the NRA ahead of American families’
The White House has failed to find traction on a middle ground that would allow meaningful reform to thrive while protecting the con