WASHINGTON -- The day after President Obama made an emotional and direct vow to use all the power of his office to try to prevent gun violence, the White House offered no indication how he planned to fulfill that promise and said only that steps would be taken “in the coming weeks.”
“I don’t have a series of proposals to present to you,” a grim-faced Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said at a contentious press briefing Monday during which reporters repeatedly pressed him to explain the president’s comments. “This is a complex issue that requires complex solutions and he looks forward to engaging the American people in an effort to do more.”
In a heart-rending speech Sunday night at an interfaith vigil in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six women were gunned down at an elementary school last Friday, Obama said he would use “whatever power this office holds” to prevent future mass slayings.
The president suggested he would start by speaking with law enforcement authorities, parents groups, educators and mental health professionals to build consensus for change. He did not mention the word "gun" or "weapon."
Carney said Obama supports measures to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. But he said proposed limits to some gun sales or manufacture was only one of the possible steps under consideration.
“I think that it's part of it, but it is far from all of it,” he said.
Obama’s promise in Newtown to directly engage raised expectations among advocates on both sides of the debate that the newly reelected president may be preparing to move boldly on an issue that has dogged his presidency. It was his fourth speech leading the country in mourning, but this mass slaying appeared to affect him the most deeply.
“Surely, we can do better than this, ” he declared, as he reflected on his insecurities and responsibilities as a father of two young girls. He wiped away a tear, the second time he has wept publicly about the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Aides said that Obama largely wrote the remarks himself, tweaking them with a speech writer as he flew to Connecticut.
But the follow-up Monday from the White House spokesman suggested the administration isn’t prepared to deviate from its typically cautious strategy on policy making.
Aides to the president say he wants to avoid pushing partisans into their usual foxholes on the politically sensitive issue of guns and gun violence, but is seeking proposals that stand a chance of passage. Building a political consensus will take time, said one advisor.
Obama hopes “that everyone steps back and looks at a situation that has to be addressed, and thinks broadly and thoughtfully about how we can move forward,” he said.