It was only a single sentence in President Obama’s speech about the Navy Yard shootings, but it spoke volumes about his inability to enact gun control in Congress.
“By now,” Mr. Obama said, “it should be clear that the change we need will not come from Washington, even when tragedy strikes Washington.”
To some gun control advocates, the president’s comment sounded like surrender to supporters of the Second Amendment in Congress, at least for now.
“It says it to me — it says that he’s being realistic and knows that nothing is going to pass,” said Elliot Fineman, president of the National Gun Victims Action Council. “He’s run into the reality that our side has run into for 19 years. They’re not going to get the votes.”
Other supporters of gun control said the president was simply restating starkly his view that Congress won’t act on background checks or other new gun restrictions without sustained pressure from the public.
“What he means is that it’s not going to be the president or advocacy organizations talking directly to politicians that’s going to transform this issue,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “The only way that’s going to happen is if the American public holds our elected officials accountable. And that’s not going to come from within.”
Still, Mr. Obama’s tone lacked an urgency that he expressed in January, when he signed 23 executive actions on gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
That was before the Senate rejected a measure to require expanded background checks on gun purchasers, favored by a strong majority of Americans in polls.
White House aides said the president hasn’t surrendered on gun control, pointing to two executive actions that he ordered in late August, including a ban on most re-imports of military surplus firearms to private entities. And a week ago, aides noted, Mr. Obama said in an interview with Telemundo that he’s doing everything he can to curb gun violence.
“I’ve taken steps that are within my control,” he said. “The next phase now is for Congress to go ahead and move.”
But on the same day that his interview aired, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters the background check issue remains stalled.
“We don’t have the votes,” the Nevada Democrat said.
The congressional calendar also could be working against the administration’s efforts to enact new gun restrictions. The time remaining in the current session will be consumed with contentious budget negotiations over defunding Obamacare, raising the nation’s borrowing limit and ending the sequestration budget cuts.
And next year is a mid-term election, when lawmakers typically show even less appetite for taking on a hot-button issue such as gun control.