by Jules Witcover

As a consensus has slowly built that Congress will at best settle for half a loaf on tough new gun-control legislation, President Obama continues to do a version of a Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope dance on the issue.

At the White House, he elevated his efforts somewhat by bringing in mothers of victims of the Newtown school shooting to stand behind him as he scolded: "Shame on us if we've forgotten."

But after sending Vice President Joe Biden out to build a comprehensive package of proposals running the gamut from ban on assault weapons, multi-bullet magazines and cartridges to a range of other responses to reduce gun violence, the president merely urged Congress to vote on them.

Instead of using the major bully pulpit available to him -- a prime-time televised address demanding a head-on solution to America's most conspicuous sickness -- Obama settled at first for telling Congress that the victims of Newtown and elsewhere "deserve a vote."

Meanwhile, his Senate leader, the uninspiring Harry Reid, did a premature cave-in. He announced that the assault weapons ban was being dropped from the package going to the Senate floor, for lack of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster threat with that provision included.

In a meek concession to the advocates of the ban, led by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, Reid has said an attempt to amend the bill will be allowed.

In the face of this leadership halfway house, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York has launched a personal crusade against the National Rifle Association. He is spending $12 million of his vast personal wealth on a television advertising campaign for the toughest proposals including the assault weapons ban, aimed at members of Congress in 10 states propped up by NRA money or threats of retaliation if they go off the reservation.

Bloomberg appeared last Sunday on "Meet the Press," arguing that even if the assault-weapons ban lost, he was making a strong try for it. He claimed wide public support in the polls for it while also pushing for the other gun-control measures. "If 90 percent of the public want something, and their representatives vote against that," he said, "common sense says they're going to pay a price for that."

Appearing on the same show immediately following Bloomberg's pitch was chief NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre. His organization has a long and successful record of financial support to congressional backers of its pro-guns agenda, and intimidation of its critics.

"He can't spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public ... and he can't buy America," the NRA chief spokesman said of Bloomberg. Small NRA donations have come, he said, from "people saying, 'Stand up to this guy that says we can only have three bullets ... who says ridiculous things like 'the NRA wants firearms with nukes' on them. I mean, it's insane, the stuff he says."

But the rich and influential Bloomberg so far is waging a more pointed and expansive war on the NRA and the nation's gun culture than is the man in the White House. Obama's pitch to Congress that the recent gun victims on the streets and in the schools of America "deserve a vote" pales in comparison to Democratic predecessor Lyndon Johnson's call to Congress of "Let us continue" the slain John Kennedy's civil-rights agenda five days after the assassination in Dallas in November 1963.

Not since that national tragedy nearly half a century ago has the country been as shocked by domestic gun violence as it was in the gunning down of 20 school children in Newtown. But LBJ did not ask Congress after that earlier calamity merely to agree to cast a vote. He demanded that it clearly act in the cause of social justice that JFK championed.

President Obama should do no less now in the fight against gun violence, regardless of Harry Reid's grim reading of the prospects of restoring the assault weapons ban in the Senate. Better to fight and go down swinging than to concede defeat once again to the NRA and its grip on weak-kneed or wrong-headed lawmakers on Capitol Hill.



Receive our political analysis by email by subscribing here

Obama's Limited War on Guns | Politics

© iHaveNet