To the dismay of groups hoping the White House would take the lead on proposed legislation to ban high-capacity extended magazines in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), President Barack Obama did not mention gun control in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
Even after the National Journal posted a copy of the speech obtained from a Democratic insider over an hour before the speech which didn’t mention the issue, gun control advocates were still holding out hope that Obama would go off script.
“He’s got a lot on his plate,” Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) told me before the speech. “The President is known to speak off the cuff every once in awhile.”
“I can understand if nothing is said tonight, but let’s wait a see what he says. If not, I’ll still go forward,” McCarthy.
McCarthy said that if former Vice President Dick Cheney could come out in favor of a ban on high-capacity clips, she didn’t know why other Republicans couldn’t.
“I happened to be watching when he came out said that and I just went ‘whoa.’ I mean, Dick Cheney! If he can come out and say it…” McCarthy said. “Unfortunately the NRA is pushing that, putting false information out there and telling their people that if I get this though they’re going to end up not having the guns to protect themselves. That’s not true.”
After the speech, those who supported more regulation on guns had mixed reactions to the White House’s snub.
“I wasn’t quite disappointed but of course I think it does raise some questions, given what happened in Tucson, whether that’s something that should be thought about in some way,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) told TPM.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), one of the top gun control advocates in Congress, told TPM after the speech that he wasn’t disappointed that Obama didn’t get around to one of his top issues.
“He covered a lot of ground. There’s a lot of promises being made,” Lautenberg said. “The interests and the spread of the audience was a kind of a different turn. I think it was helpful in the final analysis, but there was a lot of work that was laid out for all of us.”
The more conservative Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) told TPM that everyone already knew what the issues were and that he wasn’t sure more gun control should be on the federal agenda.
“If individual states need to strengthen their laws they should do it,” Brown said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told TPM that Obama couldn’t mention every issue on his agenda in his speech, but said the gun control issue was “going to be coming up” in the upper chamber.
From outside advocacy groups, the response was much more damning. The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence issued a statement building off the President’s focus on the nine-year-old girl killed in the massacre in Arizona.
“It wasn’t the lack of innovation, education or investment, or too many regulations or too much debt that ended Christina’s life and her dreams — it was a clearly dangerous man who had way too easy access to a gun with a high capacity ammunition magazine — good only for killing many people quickly,” Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign said in a statement. “We need the president to push for laws to reduce the gun violence that shattered Tucson, and Christina’s family, and that shatters the lives of more than 100,000 Americans every year.”
In a phone interview shortly after the State of the Union address, Helmke told me that he was still holding out hope until the leaked draft of the speech came out.
“He managed to work in every issue under the sun except gun violence,” Helmke said.
The White House has steered clear of gun control for their entire time in office, even after the shooting. But there was some reason for gun control advocates to hold out hope. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who had lunch with Obama on Tuesday, said last night that Obama was planning a separate address on the issue of gun control that hasn’t been scheduled yet. Helmke said he hasn’t heard from the White House about that speech yet.