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Tapper Asks Where Obama’s Been on Guns

On rare instances in Washington, reporters do their job and ask tough questions of political leaders. Rarer still, the leaders give good answers.  That happened today.

In “Tapper to Obama on newly-found gun control advocacy: ‘Where have you been?‘” The Daily Caller rightly applauds the former but seems oblivious to the latter.

ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper asked President Barack Obama Wednesday why the president’s plea for action on gun issues has come so late in his first term and only after last week’s tragic incident at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Obama was holding a noon press conference to announce the creation of a Vice President Joe Biden-led task force to craft new administration gun control policy.

“It seems to a lot of observers that you made the political calculation in 2008 in your first term and 2012 not to talk about gun violence,” Tapper said during the noon White House press conference. “You had your position on renewing the ban on semi-automatic rifles that then-Sen. Biden put into place, but you didn’t do much about it. This is not the first incident of horrific gun violence of your four years. Where have you been?”

The tone of the question borders on the smug but the substance is absolutely fair. And White House reporters, in particular, have tended to shy away from such pointed questions in recent years. But Obama’s answer struck me as pretty powerful, too:

“Well, here’s where I’ve been, Jake,” Obama replied. “I’ve been president of the United States dealing with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars. I don’t think I’ve been on vacation. And so, you know, I think all of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington.”

Obama added that there was more involved in keeping children safe beyond dealing only with guns and reiterated his confidence in Biden and his task force.

“And as I said on Sunday, you know, this should be a wake-up call for all of us to say that if we are not getting right the need to keep our children safe, then nothing else matters,” he continued. “It’s my commitment to make sure we do everything we can to keep our children safe. A lot of things are involved in that, Jake. So making sure they have decent health care, making sure they got a good education, making sure that their parents have jobs — those are all relevant as well. Those aren’t just sort of side issues. But there’s no doubt that this has to be a central issue. And that’s exactly why I’m confident that Joe [Biden] is going to take this so seriously over the next couple months.”

 

Presumably, the president was expecting the question and was well prepared; otherwise, this is some world class thinking on his feet on display.

To be sure, he’s dodged Tapper’s question here. Given Obama’s general ideological disposition, it strikes me as implausible, indeed, that he’s had some sort of Road to Damascus conversion on the gun issue. As with gay marriage and gays in the military, he’s resisted fighting for his preferred policy on an incredibly divisive issue of public policy until forced by events to do so. So, Tapper’s implied premise, that Obama was waiting until he didn’t have to worry about getting re-elected, is correct.

But his answer is nonetheless responsive and reasonable: Presidents pick their battles, taking on the most pressing issues and the fights that they’re most likely to win, gauging the political realities. And, while I opposed several of Obama’s initiatives, it’s perfectly fair for him to claim that he undertook them at least partly with America’s children in mind

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. lankyloo says:

    Great post.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  2. wr says:

    And if he had spent two seconds on gun violence, Jake Tapper would have demanded “Why are you wasting your time on this? Why aren’t you focusing on jobs?”

    And you would have put up a post praising Tapper for that.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 3

  3. legion says:

    Aaaaaaannd BITCHSLAP.
    Seriously – media conservatives who are now coming out of the woodwork to cry about Obama’s need to address gun stuff while THEY THEMSELVES have spent the last two years covering nothing but the national debt really need to have their microphone privileges revoked. What an ass.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 2

  4. EddieInCA says:

    If Obama answers truthfully, i.e. “I have been absent from the gun control debate because the NRA has bought and paid for more members of Congress than any other group in the country. I do not get into fights I cannot win. No one does, except for maybe stupid members of the GOP. But until Democrats in Red States give me the political cover I need, I will stay on the sidelines because the American people love their guns, and, to the NRA, 25 dead kids is just the price of freedom. So I’ll keep my mouth shut on this issue, and focus on the issues that you all have told me is what matters: jobs, jobs, jobs.”, you’d be the first one ripping him for complaining about the NRA and not substantive issues.

    Next Mr. Mataconis would post an article with the headline “Obama blames NRA for Newtown shooting. No one cares. Nothing will change.”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 2

  5. wr says:

    @EddieInCA: And to add to Obama’s truthful answer:

    “And where the hell have you been, Jake? How many stories has ABC News done on gun violence in the past four years? How many stories about the “debt crisis”? How many about Lindsay Lohan?”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 39 Thumb down 0

  6. anjin-san says:

    I am not sure that guns are an area where anything will change. Gun culture is simply too entrenched in our country. Hey, I like to shoot too – though I am rethinking some of my ideas about guns in light of this horrific tragedy.

    Properly funding community mental health services seems like a no brainer. We have cut, and cut, and cut, and we are paying the price. There is money for corporate welfare, and for platinum retirements for politicians, but the cupboard is very bare for mental health care. This needs to change, and it needs to change now.

    We also need to take a look how difficult it is to get the severely mentally ill conserved. People who are profoundly ill will refuse treatment and meds if given the choice. Sadly, we need to take that choice away. It’s better for people who are so ill that they are unable to recognize where their best interests lie, and it’s better for society as a whole.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. Rob in CT says:

    I’ve seen (dubious, IMO) media reports that say the mom may have been attempting to get sonny boy committed… the idea being that he knew this, and struck first. But we don’t know, because even if this were the case the info is protected. So it’s really just rumor.

    I still want to know how Nancy Lanza stored her guns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. gVOR08 says:

    Barack Obama strikes me as the most pragmatic person I’ve ever seen on the public stage. Pragmatism seems to be something that most people find impossible to understand.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 3

  9. grumpy realist says:

    What is boils down to is that until the average American gets sick and tired of the gun violence, and decides that putting MOAH GUNZ out on the street is not, in fact, a way to solve the problem….well, yeah. We’re going to keep tripping over the bodies of our neighbors and our friends because we don’t have the guts to stand up to the NRA and the 2nd Amendment fanatics.

    If I ever run for office, I’m going to run on a platform of getting rid of the 2nd Amendment. What bloody good has it done us? Just a justification for our continued carelessness and irresponsibility with firearms.

    An armed society is NOT a polite society. An armed society is Somalia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  10. stonetools says:

    It was have nice if BHO had responded:

    ” Well, where the f&*k were you, and the rest of the WH press corps?”

    It was noteworthy that at a press conference specifically called to discuss gun policy, the first four questions were about the fiscal cliff and the press had to be prompted by the White House press team to ask questions about gun policy.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  11. Anderson says:

    I still want to know how Nancy Lanza stored her guns.

    Poorly?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  12. Crusty Dem says:

    Wow, that’s the worst tone I’ve heard from a WH correspondent since Helen Thomas got the boot. “Where have you been?” This isn’t MTV Jake, why don’t you try that again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  13. de stijl says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I still want to know how Nancy Lanza stored her guns.

    According to reports, Ms. Lanza was a “doomsday prepper” who was concerned that the economy was going to crater leading to a societal collapse and that her main goal was to BE PREPARED, so my guess is under her pillow with the safety off.

    God only knows what she told her kid.

    This is the gun cult eating itself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  14. Whitfield says:

    The president should have turned things around and questioned Mr. Tapper and the way that ABC and about all of the news media covered this thing: no fact verification, no respect of the privacy of these people, and an obscene obsession with this event.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  15. swbarnes2 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    What is boils down to is that until the average American gets sick and tired of the gun violence, and decides that putting MOAH GUNZ out on the street is not, in fact, a way to solve the problem….well, yeah. We’re going to keep tripping over the bodies of our neighbors and our friends because we don’t have the guts to stand up to the NRA and the 2nd Amendment fanatics.

    It’s not about us personally standing up to the NRA. I’m sure that neither Doug nor James care much for the NRA, and have no problem saying so. But would the men they voted for for President have stood up the the NRA? Absolutely not.

    So talking about people’s feelings is silly. We need politicians who will pass the laws we want, and Doug and James vote counter to that, no matter what their feelings are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  16. Jeremy R says:

    @Crusty Dem:

    Wow, that’s the worst tone I’ve heard from a WH correspondent since Helen Thomas got the boot.

    Tapper always sounds like that at WH press conferences & briefings – petulant, sarcastic & self-important. His #1 goal over the last few years has been to get ABC News stories & clips onto Drudge, and that Drudge-baiting posture helps explain the tone of questions and frequently (bizarrely) inaccurately titled stories.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. Whitfield says:

    @gVOR08: Pragmatist ? The best pragmatists were Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  18. legion says:

    @de stijl:

    This is the gun cult eating itself.

    Now if only they could keep to shooting themselves, we’d have a self-correcting problem…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  19. bill says:

    oh christ, the same lead he uses every time someone actually asks him a tough question.
    he should have just thrown this in while he was at it;

    “Like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms,” he wrote. “And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners – it has expanded them.”
    That was just after the AZ shoot up when Gabby was shot by a “non-tea party” person.

    In his first month in office, Obama overturned a 20-year ban on loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. Licensed gun owners from any state can now carry concealed, loaded weapons on federal land.

    Ten months later, as part of an omnibus spending bill, Obama reversed a decade-long ban on transporting firearms by train. Amtrak travelers can now carry unloaded, locked weapons in their checked baggage.

    So really, he hasn’t done anything about gun control either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  20. JKB says:

    To bad Obama wasn’t concerned about the dozens of Mexican children whose death he’s facilitated by providing weapons to murders. He speaks of keeping “our” children safe even as he endangered the children of Mexican parents.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 24

  21. EddieInCA says:

    @JKB:

    To bad Obama wasn’t concerned about the dozens of Mexican children whose death he’s facilitated by providing weapons to murders. He speaks of keeping “our” children safe even as he endangered the children of Mexican parents.

    Of course… because Drug Cartels wouldn’t have weapons if “Fast and Furious” hadn’t happened.

    Jeez, don’t you ever get tired of being such an effing douchebag?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 3

  22. anjin-san says:

    @ JKB

    Too bad you and countless other conservatives were not concerned about the thousands of children that died in Iraq in Mr. Bush’s elective war there. You were all to busy getting worked up about video of “shock & awe” and pontificating about how much ass “we” were kicking…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  23. de stijl says:

    @JKB:

    To [sic] bad Obama wasn’t concerned about the dozens of Mexican children whose death he’s facilitated by providing weapons to murders.

    So if Holder was unaware of the abuses of the the Tuscon ATF office, Obama should have known about it how? Telepathy? Nostradamus? Scrying?

    BTW, your jackalope would have been better had you mentioned Brian Terry. I hope that improves your future concern trolling on this subject. Brian Terry is a much better hero in this scenario – “true patriots” don’t give a sh!t about Mexican kids – foreign or domestic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  24. JKB says:

    Interesting, over at Powerline they point out Obama and Reid have sent gun control to Beltway limbo, the special commission to study. Remember how Obama jumped on implementing the last commissions recommendations.

    Also, Eugene Volokh has the real reason the controllers push the ineffective “assault weapons” ban

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 10

  25. Argon says:

    Note that the President was asked a similar question during this year’s debates.

    I agree that it’s sad we couldn’t have serious movement on this problem earlier but concede that Obama needed to spend political capitol elsewhere. He definitely learned something from Clinton’s years about not pissing away power needlessly.

    There are at least three very big things this administration still has to manage: The pull-out of Afghanistan, restoring revenue for the government and stabilizing spending, and getting the country moving on global warming and protecting the environment. This work is going to be confounded by Europe’s double-dip recession, some dumb-assed moves by Israel that will invite violence in the Middle East again, and at least a couple major calamities or conflicts that few will have seen coming. Yes gun regulation and finally having rational dialog about our f’ed up relationship with guns are necessary but if I had to prioritize… Well, look at it this way: Right new the gun nuts are their own worst enemies. The more they bleat the weaker they get.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  26. Herb says:

    ” As with gay marriage and gays in the military, he’s resisted fighting for his preferred policy on an incredibly divisive issue of public policy until forced by events to do so.”

    James, you pretty much summed up why I think Obama will turn out (historically) to be the greatest conservative president this side of Eisenhower.

    The Republicans….they would go right for the divisive stuff. No pause, second thought, or resistance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  27. crystal gimesh says:

    I fail to see anything stunning about Obama’s answer to one of the few and far between questions he deigns to answer. It was a typical political answer with little of substance expressed with some of Obama’s patent defensiveness thrown in for good measure. What is more noteworthy is all of the vitriol being expressed at one of the few journalists out there doing their job-i.e. asking tough questions. Maybe you should change your name from “Outside the Beltway” to “Up Obama’s A**”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  28. Rob in CT says:

    Interesting, over at Powerline they point out Obama and Reid have sent gun control to Beltway limbo

    And this bothers you?

    I get that it might bother liberals who favor increased federal gun control. But why would it bother you. Why would you not, instead, quietly applaud it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  29. The Q says:

    Mr. President, 42 kids today in Tanzaniya were eaten by lions, where have you been on lion control in the Serengetti?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  30. stonetools says:

    @JKB:

    What’s depressing when reading the Volokh thread is that the gun rights folks care about one thing: unlimired access to their favorite weapon/toys. They really don’t give a damn about anything else, including the lives of the children lost at Sandy Hook. They’ve already pushed them down the memory hole. Sad and pathalogical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  31. al-Ameda says:

    Jake is a disingenious dweeb. If Obama had pursued the kind of policies that he is evidently moving toward now, guys like Tapper would have reported it as confirming right wing fears that Obama was going to take away guns and diminish the Second Amendment. Jake is trying hard to appear to be relevant, and he’s not succeeding.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  32. bk says:

    @JKB:

    Interesting, over at Powerline

    Oxymoron.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  33. bill says: