Never in his tenure in office has President Obama displayed as much sustained emotional attachment to any issue as gun control. He has repeatedly called the day of the Newtown massacre the worst of his presidency, and in the months since he's spent stacks and stacks of political capital on the matter, delaying matters like immigration and tax reform, which might pay off more for him politically. And he's jetted around the country, giving speech after speech exhorting his supporters to back new gun laws -- most recently in Hartford, Connecticut on Monday.
What's remarkable, however, is how modest his actual demands have been. While the more aggressive reform advocates, like Michael Bloomberg and Dianne Feinstein, have pushed for measures like an assault-weapons ban, Obama has largely avoided specifics. And the impassioned climax of his State of the Union speech -- what James Fallows called "the one rhetorically and emotionally powerful stretch of his presentation" -- was his demand not for Congress to pass anything, but simply for them to cast a ballot on it:
Hadiya [Pendleton]'s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.
Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.
The families of Newtown deserve a vote.
The families of Aurora deserve a vote.
The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence -- they deserve a simple vote.
The modesty is partly a nod to political reality: Obama must have known from the start that there were serious limits on how sweeping any reforms would get. The assault-weapons ban was never going to happen. Instead, the president's Democratic allies focused on what looked like a much more feasible goal: expanded background checks, which would cover guns sold at guns shows and over the Internet, along with proposals on school safety and gun trafficking.