On Guns, "Better than Nothing" Doesn't Cut It

An estimated 3,349 lives have ended by American gun violence since 20 children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. We've seen roughly 120,460 years of life wasted since the New Year began. Thousands of lives extinguished. Dozens of communities wounded by fear and grief. And zero new federal laws passed to prevent the slow and deadly attrition of American life at the end of a gun.

In the emotional heat of the weeks after December 14, Democrats assembled a coalition of the willing—in other words, those who weren't in danger of losing their seat in 2014—to work on passing an assault-weapons ban. The cry for that legislation has dissipated in the months since, however, as the horror at what transpired in Newtown, Aurora, and Oak Creek grows less pungent, replaced by the less-heady cocktail of electoral fear and Bill of Rights fetishism worn as armor by the right. Any hope of passing that assault-weapons ban, or a limit on the size of ammunition magazines, appears to have vanished for the time being. What we're left with is the bipartisan Senate compromise announced today by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey—National Rifle Association endorsees. Their compromise will be presented as an amendment to the gun bill hitting the Senate floor tomorrow, and it would expand background checks to gun shows and online sales. It sounds like progress, and has been lauded as such inside the halls of the Capitol and in statements released by gun-safety groups. But if you had any doubts that gun control had lost its cachet at this point, let Toomey's remarks at a presser today—filled with fear that sponsoring this bill would be seen as a show of solidarity with those crazed anti-gun nuts—dissuade you: “I’ve got to tell you, candidly, I don’t consider criminal background checks gun control," Toomey protested.

Policies that you could consider gun control, such as limiting sales online to five guns per year, or requiring that states validate other states' concealed-carry permits, are conspicuously absent. Sales between family members and neighbors will be exempt from the new background checks. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo—whose state, along with massacre-hit Colorado and Connecticut, passed robust gun-control legislation recently—put it: “It’s better than nothing, but it’s only better than nothing." Even this tepid step toward gun control could still fall victim to a Senate filibuster tomorrow—even before it reaches the unfriendly audience awaiting it in the House. Our government is designed to act slowly, and perfect compromises often leave a bitter taste of defeat in both parties' mouths, but the thousands more who will die before the year is out don't have time for Congress to surf the lowest common denominator.

Only hours after Toomey and Manchin released their compromise, Michelle Obama spoke at Harper High, a small school of about 550 on Chicago's South Side. She devoted a moment to discussing the issue weighing on every head on the Hill, and even more heavily at Harper, where 29 students were shot—eight dead—last year. "If there is even one thing we can do, even one step we can take to save another child or another parent from [this] grief ... then don't we have an obligation to try?

So They Say

“Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her. But I got to grow up and go to Princeton and Harvard Law School and have a career and family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine. And Hadiya? Oh, we know that story."

Michelle Obama, speaking today at Harper High


Daily Meme: America's Next Top Scandal

  • Anthony Weiner, the former congressman forever memorialized for NSFW Twitter etiquette, and Huma Abedin, a crucial member of Hillary Clinton's A-Team since the '90s, sat down with The New York Times Magazine for an interview that hit the web this morning.
  • Weiner clearly sees it as the first step in his road to redemption ... as well as a bid for City Hall
  • After reading the interview, others see Abedin as the more obvious choice for New York's next mayor, given that she's clearly a better political animal, more likeable, and, you know, not scandal-ridden.
  • The question we're left with after reading the profile: Where are the other famous fallen politicians of news cycles past?
  • Mark Sanford, former South Carolina governor and euphemistic hiking enthusiast, just won a special-election primary for an empty House seat in his state. The Charleston City Paper describes his comeback thusly: "Some people shatter the record for speed in their sport. Others redefine their industries. Mark Sanford is rewriting the cultural rule book on infidelity." 
  • Five years after the fact, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer still thinks that resigning after his sex scandal was the right thing to do. When he's not anchoring bad news shows, he often fundraises for friends whose electoral chances shine brighter than his own.
  • Rod Blagojevich is still in jail after trying to solicit bribes for the chance to sit in Barack Obama's old Senate seat. He's also teaching a class on the Civil War for his fellow inmates. 
  • Bill Clinton has cemented his place as the charming post-presidential dad, issuing #realtalk and pith in equal dosages when the time is right. But his Twitter-fueled insecurity, as revealed on the Colbert Show, does have Weiner-esque undertones.
  • David Petraeus is still deciding how to stage the second act of his career—but clearly has no shortage of options. Like Abedin, Holly Petraeus has continued to rock her career in the sludgy aftermath of the sex scandal, leaving her husband in the dust.

What We're Writing

  • Jack Lew is over in Europe trying to convince the implacable Germans to ease up on austerity. Robert Kuttner notes that the administration is doing Lew no favors by plowing ahead with our own cuts back at home.
  • Judge Korman has spoken and young women should soon be universally able to buy Plan B over the counter. Jaclyn Friedman rejoices and then reminds us that the Obama Administration was the only thing standing in the way in the first place.

What We're Reading

  • The Arkansas Times reports on how the town of Mayflower is recovering after the enormous oil spill last month. (Hint: It's a mess.)
  • The Rockaways are still hurting , more than five months after Hurricane Sandy, and Doctors of the World is setting up its first permanent U.S. location on the peninsula.
  • Neither Congress nor sequesters nor Federal budgets will keep these postmen from their appointed Saturday rounds—at least for now.
  • The president has released his proposal for the federal budget, and true to form, he's made his opening bargaining position anathema to progressives and ensured that proposed cuts to entitlement programs will eventually be included—and be large.
  • Mother Jones has a picture show that highlights the National Rifle Association's gradual slide into madness.
  • Conservatives who vociferously oppose amnesty, asylum, and immigration from anyone anywhere in the global south are tripping all over themselves to welcome some white German evangelical Christians. Go figure. 
  • The Department of Health and Human Services has rolled out $54 million to hire "navigators" to sign people up for Obamacare's various programs and guide them through the insurance process.

Poll of the Day

Gallup asked Americans who they trust most to manage the economy and by a strong margin (57 to 48 percent), President Obama beat out "Democratic leaders in Congress.

Prospect intern Jon Coumes contributed to today's Ringside Seat.