In a new interview, President Obama tries to overcome a stereotype that says he's a gun-hater. His critics are a hard sell.
President Obama once said rural Americans “get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.” Now, trying to enact significant gun control legislation, he’s being careful to address gun owners’ feelings and concerns. “I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations,” he said in an interview in the recently relaunched New Republic. “And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake.” The president told The New Republic that he skeet shoots with friends at Camp David “all the time.”
The interview, called “The President is Not Pleased,” presses Obama on a number of issues that some unpredictable tragedies have made more urgent. Not least of these is the recent push by Obama and Vice President Biden for stricter gun control legislation, including the 23 executive orders introduced earlier this month. “[Obama's] aides described the massacre as having knocked his tightly held interior life into full view like no other event,” write Franklin Foer and New Republic publisher Chris Hughes.
The executive orders reflect Obama’s determination to see movement on gun control, though he has some reservations about this approach as a tool for lasting change. “I continue to believe that whenever we can codify something through legislation, it is on firmer ground,” said Obama. “It’s not going to be reversed by a future president. It is something that will be long lasting and sturdier and more stable.”
Obama appears to recognize that public support for tighter gun laws will hinge on his ability to overcome the gun-hating stereotype his opponents have held up in his place. If CEO of the NRA Wayne LaPierre says that the only reasons to create a federal gun registry are to either tax gun owners or take their guns away, then Obama has to show those constituencies that he has no such motives. He has to make the case for sensible laws, while at the same time showing gun enthusiasts he respects the traditions they’re eager to protect.
“Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas,” Obama said. “And if you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were ten, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family’s traditions, you can see why you’d be pretty protective of that.”
It’s clear that hunting traditions run deep in the lives of many Americans. Obama says he can endorse legislation that makes it harder for dangerous individuals to acquire weapons and respect those traditions at the same time. His opponents don’t buy it. They don’t even buy that he skeet shoots:
— usCrow (@AnarchyMile) January 29, 2013
“You have to conclude, if you’re a reasonable person, that the president has hijacked those tragedies [Aurora and Sandy Hook] in order to advance his desire for gun control,” said psychiatrist Keith Ablow on Fox News last week. ”His solution runs psychologically in the direction of disempowering the individual every single time.”
Closing the gap between Obama and the stereotype won’t be easy. “It’s trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months,” the president said. “And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes.”