WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama carefully avoided overtly criticizing the nation's largest pro-gun lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, on Wednesday, saying only that he hopes the group's members "will do some self-reflection" following the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Friday. The president made the comments at a press conference announcing a joint task force led by Vice President Joe Biden to consider ways to reduce gun violence.
"The NRA is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers, and I would expect that they've been impacted by this as well," Obama said. "And hopefully they'll do some self-reflection." He then pivoted to stress that no single gun law can "solve all these problems."
The president's comments about the NRA were subdued compared to those of a number of prominent lawmakers, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and conservative Democrat Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.), who have decried the powerful lobbying group's influence on members of Congress.
The NRA "has spent untold millions of dollars instilling fear in our citizens and our politicians," Yarmuth said at a news conference Monday, adding that the NRA, "wants us to believe that the best protection against the irresponsible and lethal use of guns is for everyone to be armed."
By opting not to address the NRA's influence on gun policy in more strident terms, Obama signaled that he is still optimistic about bringing the group to the table, something the administration has had trouble doing in the past.
For its part, the NRA has announced it will hold a press conference Friday to announce plans for "meaningful contributions" the group is willing to make to prevent mass shootings from happening in the future. It remains to be seen what those contributions might be, but there are indications that it believes the shooting was a mental health issue as much as it was a gun issue.
Obama's decision to meet with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) on Tuesday is also a telling indicator of how the president may plan to work with the NRA. A lifetime member of the NRA, Manchin signaled earlier this week that he would be willing to consider reforming gun laws in order to prevent another tragedy. He also said the NRA "must have a seat at the table" for any broader discussions of proposed laws or increased regulations.
This middle-ground position has helped Manchin emerge as a potentially influential go-between for the White House and the NRA. Following their meeting, Manchin said "I know my friends at the NRA and those who support our Second Amendment rights will participate [in the broader conversation about gun control] because I know that their hearts are aching for the families in Newtown, just like all Americans.”