At the beginning of his State of the Union address, President Obama tipped his hat to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who’s now recuperating in a Houston medical facility. But throughout the hourlong speech, he never addressed the issue at the core of the Giffords tragedy—gun control—and what lawmakers would, or should, do to reform American firearm-access laws.
That was intentional, according to the White House. An administration official says Obama didn’t mention guns in his speech because of the omnipresent controversy surrounding the Second Amendment and gun control. Tuesday’s speech was designed to be more about the economy and how, as Obama repeated nine times, the U.S. could “win the future.”
But in the next two weeks, the White House will unveil a new gun-control effort in which it will urge Congress to strengthen current laws, which now allow some mentally unstable people, such as alleged Arizona shooter Jared Loughner, to obtain certain assault weapons, in some cases without even a background check.
Tuesday night after the speech, Obama adviser David Plouffe said to NBC News that the president would not let the moment after the Arizona shootings pass without pushing for some change in the law, to prevent another similar incident. “It’s a very important issue, and one I know there’s going to be debate about on the Hill.”
The White House said that to avoid being accused of capitalizing on the Arizona shootings for political gain, Obama will address the gun issue in a separate speech, likely early next month. He’s also expected to use Arizona as a starting point, but make the case that America’s gun laws have been too loose for much longer than just the past few weeks.
As the White House prepares its strategy, several gun-policy groups are saying they were burned by the lack of any mention of guns in the president’s highest-profile speech of the year. “President Obama tonight failed to challenge old assumptions on the need for, and political possibilities of, reducing the gun violence—which he suggested should be done two weeks ago in Tucson,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the nation’s largest gun-safety group. No group said it had been consulted by the White House regarding legislative suggestions.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association has stayed largely silent following the Arizona shootings. Asked about a specialized White House effort on guns, a spokesman for the powerful gun lobby declined to comment.