ON SUNDAY night, Barack Obama was at his most eloquent. His biographer, David Maraniss, called the president's remarks to the people of Newtown, Conn., "his Gettysburg Address."
Once again - as he had a few hours after the mass murder last Friday - Obama expressed his anguish as a parent over the deaths of 20 first-graders and six of their teachers. He reassured the grieving people of Newtown that they were not alone.
But at the gathering at Newtown High School, the president bluntly called for action, allowing us to hope that he finally has accepted responsibility as president to name the nation's failure (his as well as ours) to keep our children safe from the domestic terror of gun violence.
"That's how, as a society, we will be judged," he said. "And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, we are meeting our obligations? . . . I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We're not doing enough. And we will have to change."
At least some of the reporters who covered the event were surprised. This was, after all, the fourth time President Obama had been "consoler-in-chief" at a gathering after a mass shooting in the United States in less than two years, but it was only the first that Obama had said anything remotely like the pledge he made on Sunday: to "use whatever power this office holds" to prevent more tragedies. He even took on, at least obliquely, the chief argument against sensible gun regulation: "Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
The White House yesterday was still vague about exactly what changes it would fight for, but on the federal level there are a couple of pieces of legislation that would constitute a beginning: On the first day of the new Congress in January, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will re-introduce a renewal of the 1994 Ban on Assault Weapons that expired in 2004. This time, we hope it will not be ridden with so many exceptions as to limit its modest effectiveness. In addition, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., says he will introduce a bill banning high-volume ammunition clips like the ones used in these mass shootings.
Still, it's pretty obvious that, even after the carnage in Newtown last week, there currently isn't enough political support to pass these bills - or public support, for that matter. According to polls, public opinion has swung away from doing much to address gun violence or make the gun lobby defend the widespread availability of these killing machines. In the meantime, the industry makes millions of dollars facilitating the bloodletting and stoking the fear.