Vice President Joe Biden is known for his frequent gaffes, and he made one of his biggest on the issue of gun control.
Heading a task force formed in the wake of the Connecticut shooting that left 20 children dead, Biden began the discourse with a threat: The president, he said, could address the problem with executive orders.
It was a tone-deaf statement that reflected a complete ignorance of how fearful many in the nation — most notably in Alabama — are of federal power in general, and of President Barack Obama in particular.
The extent of the gaffe became apparent when Obama listed the executive orders Wednesday. They were neither extreme nor controversial.
Obama is ordering improvements in how federal agencies share mental health data with the confidential database already used for background checks. He will instruct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence. He will encourage more aggressive prosecution of gun crimes, including of people who give false information on background checks. He will take actions helping schools to expand safety programs.
Obama supports more aggressive gun-control measures — as do most Americans and most gun owners, according to recent Pew Research Center polls — but they must make it through Congress.
Biden exacerbated his combative presentation when he gave previews on the commission’s proposals before meeting with National Rifle Association officials. While NRA’s agenda increasingly is controlled by gun manufacturers, it also has many loyal members. Gun owners need to be a part of the discussion, and Biden’s actions suggested they were not.
What Biden did was start a political battle that may not be necessary.
Many responsible gun owners look around and cringe at some of the people who legally possess semi-automatic guns with extended magazines. Responsible gun owners understand the destructive potential of guns, but they also need to be assured that Washington is not pursuing a path that will lead to prohibitions or unreasonable restrictions on access to conventional guns.
The Second Amendment may not be as broad as the NRA would like, but it does provide protections that Biden should acknowledge.
Americans recognize gun violence is at unacceptable levels. Biden needs to seek consensus, not polarization. He might be surprised at how many gun owners agree that something needs to be done.