Obama, Romney Can’t Avoid the Gun Issue

The Colorado movie-theater shootings could and should alter the dynamic of the presidential election.


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Romney, speaking from Bow, N.H., adopted a similar expression — coming from the heart of a parent, not a candidate. “Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer,” he said. “I stand before you today not as a man running for office but as a father and grandfather, a husband, an American.”

But it’s an election year, and simple words of condolence might not be enough. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch gun-control supporter, went on the air Friday morning on WOR Radio and basically called out the candidates.

“You know,” he said, “soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it … Instead of the two people — President Obama and Governor Romney — talking in broad things about they want to make the world a better place, OK, tell us how.

“We have a right to hear from them — concretely, not just in generalities but specifically — what are they gonna do about guns?”

That question, spurred by Friday’s event and preceded by such antecedents in the national life as the slaying of Trayvon Martin, awaits an answer from Obama and Romney.

Some in the media have advanced the idea that the issue of gun control will fade back into the background noise of life after a suitable period of time. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, speaking Friday on MSNBC, seemed to suggest just that, using the example of former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

But it’s different this time. The focus can be expected to be different this time precisely because it’s an election year. There are few previous examples of American gun violence that so nearly dovetail with the climax of the American political calendar as the Aurora shootings.

Giffords was wounded in January 2011 in Tucson, Ariz., in a horrific incident in which six people, one of them a federal judge, were shot to death by a crazed gunman. That was a year and a half ago, nowhere near the presidential election calendar.

President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley in March 1981, well after the 1980 campaign.

When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people at Columbine High School at Littleton, Colo., in April 1999, the nation had time to largely forget the incident before the 2000 campaign, a year away. The 2000 presidential election was even further away in March 1998, when Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson killed five people at their middle school in Jonesboro, Ark.

You have to go back decades — to the shooting of George Wallace in Laurel, Md., in May 1972, or the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles in June 1968 — to get such a close chronological linkage of deadly gun events and presidential politics.

That just changed.