Can Obama Do Something About Guns? This Photo Gives Me Hope

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By Margaret Carlson

This is part of a continuing dialogue between Ramesh Ponnuru and Margaret Carlson about Washington politics.

Ramesh, you make me feel like such a girl for still being mired in emotion rather than the cold hard facts of Newtown. Let me just pose one answer to your correct assessment that our gun-control efforts haven't worked.

This country is so awash in guns that it will take years to draw down the arsenal. There are so many loopholes in our weak laws that military-assault weapons keep flowing through private sales, gun shows and websites.

Since you agree on the mental illness piece of the problem, what do you think of this: One of the National Rifle Association's greatest achievements was legislation in 1986 that left it up to the states whether a felon or mentally ill person should have his gun rights restored. Before then, restoration was a rigorous process overseen by a federal agency. When former Senator David Durenberger, a Minnesota Republican, saw how easy it was to get a gun in his state, he tried to kill the provision. The NRA threatened to pull its support from him, and he dropped the matter.

Surely this effort to get guns back into the hands of those who've proved dangerous -- the exact opposite of a background check -- also fills you with disgust.

The hole of which you speak in the argument for greater regulation -- that the reinstatement of the assault-weapons ban would not have stopped this killer -- isn't evidence we shouldn't have greater regulation. We can say we need laws that would prevent someone like Adam Lanza from getting automatic weapons, even as we acknowledge that anyone willing to kill his mother to get them will be hard to stop.

How can President Barack Obama now go on as usual, handing off guns to a commission? Commissions are where good ideas go to die, especially if you tie a blue ribbon around them. Maybe if the president weren't buried by negotiations over the fiscal cliff, he would have gotten a bill introduced this week, before the country's resolve wanes. Presidents are supposed to be able to do more than one thing at a time, move from one crisis to another, from the mundane to the profound.

That's why I think Obama should prioritize the gun issue ahead of the fiscal cliff. The country isn't kept up at night about the deficit. We're kept up by crazy people armed with automatic weapons mowing down six-year olds.

There is a photo in Time's Person of the Year issue that gives me hope that this commission will be different. It shows Obama last Sunday sitting in a nearly-empty auditorium, watching his daughter Sasha's dress rehearsal for her appearance in "The Nutcracker" while also working on a speech he would deliver later that day at a memorial service for the victims in Newtown, Connecticut. He's at her rehearsal because he will miss her performance in order to give that eulogy.

He looks as sad as a man can be. He is a father being there for his daughter when he can; later on he would try to be a father figure to the nation. He delivered what small comfort he could. Of the larger contribution he can make, that photo tells me he is not going to let this go.

(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)

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-0- Dec/22/2012 14:16 GMT