President Obama's 2013 State of the Union address. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
For those who doubted that Barack Obama would maintain his commitment to a gun-safety agenda that challenges the supposed political power of the National Rifle Association, and the political caution of Democrats who more than a decade ago decided for the most cynical of reasons to abandon the struggle to address gun violence, the president’s fourth State of the Union address provided the answer.
Obama’s speech delivered a bold economic message—a rejection of the austerity threat posed by Paul Ryan and the Republican right in favor of a job-creation agenda—and it renewed the liberal promises of his recent inaugural address: fair pay for women, fair treatment for lesbians and gays, immigration reform, a return to seriousness with regard to climate change. The president was still too supportive of free-trade fantasies and he made an unsettling, if ill-defined, bow to the wrongheaded approaches of the Simpson-Bowles commission. Yet, his speech was aggressively progressive on a host of issues, calling for a hike in the minimum wage to $9 an hour, for real investments “in high-quality early education” and for a renewal of America’s commitment to voting rights.
That would have been enough in most years.
But this year’s State of the Union Address—coming just two months after the nation was shaken by the gun massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school—demanded more.
And the president recognized that demand.
The emotional highpoint of his address to a joint session of Congress came late in the speech, when Obama pivoted from a review of his global vision—bringing troops home from Afghanistan, reducing nuclear arsenals, a genuine embrace of diplomacy—toward domestic affairs. And toward the most human, the most genuinely and understandably emotional of concerns.
“Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource—our children,” Obama began.
“It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans—Americans who believe in the Second Amendment—have come together around commonsense reform, like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.”