WASHINGTON — As lengthy as President Obama’s State of the Union address was (62 minutes), there was plenty more he could have discussed. In fact, interest groups watched with a keen eye toward a mention of their respective causes – from immigration (check) to gay rights (a quick mention of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but not gay marriage) to the protests in Egypt (implied, perhaps).
But the one issue he skipped that may have raised the most eyebrows was gun control. After the Tucson, Ariz., shootings on Jan. 8, which killed six and injured 13 – including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona – Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was an obvious moment for Mr. Obama to lay out what he thinks or maybe even proposes.
There, after all, in the middle of the House chamber was an empty seat for Congresswoman Giffords, who is recovering in Houston. Obama kicked off his speech with a reprise of his remarks at the Tucson memorial service – the call for unity and civility, the poignant reminder of the little girl who died, her parents and brother seated in the balcony with Michelle Obama.
But there was no mention of guns or the high-capacity magazines suspected shooter Jared Loughner is alleged to have used, and which some members of Congress want to see banned again. There was also no discussion of the background-check system that did not prevent Mr. Loughner from purchasing his Glock 19 and several magazines. And no mention of mental-health treatment, or efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of people with mental issues – a possible factor in the shooting spree.
Obama will address the gun issue soon, top adviser David Plouffe said on NBC late Tuesday.
“The president has been clear about his position on the assault-weapons ban, to use an example … back in the campaign, that’s been restated,” Mr. Plouffe said.
Candidate Obama supported reinstating the assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004 – and which included a ban on high-capacity magazines. But since becoming president, Obama has largely steered clear of the gun issue. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg chided Obama Wednesday for making no mention Tuesday of what he called “the broken background check system.”
But former Democratic chairman Howard Dean gave Obama a pass.
“I think it was the right thing to do,” the former Vermont governor said Wednesday on MSNBC.”That’s a very divisive, tough issue. He didn’t mention abortion, either.”