LBJ: “We have only two weeks, maybe only 10 days before the gun lobby gets organized.”

by David Safier

Here's a cautionary tale from the days after Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968, written by Joseph Califano, President Johnson's top assistant for domestic policy.

In the aftermath of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, President Johnson pressed Congress to enact gun control legislation he had sent to Capitol Hill years earlier. LBJ ordered all of us on his staff – and urged allies in Congress – to act swiftly. "We have only two weeks, maybe only 10 days," he said, "before the gun lobby gets organized." He told Larry O'Brien and me, "We've got to beat the NRA (National Rifle Association) into the offices of members of Congress.

Unfortunately, it took time for Congress to act, and LBJ's proposed legislation from three years earlier was watered down before passage. Califano hopes Obama and the Democrats take this story as a spur to quick action.

Obama's pained remarks in the wake of this latest school shooting echo Johnson's anguish a half-century ago. But Obama has a unique opportunity: a lame-duck session of Congress. If he learns from the lesson of LBJ – two weeks to get action – and takes advantage of the fact that many members can vote their conscience without fear of retribution by the gun lobby because they are not seeking re-election, this nation may "complete the task" of passing comprehensive gun controls. That's an opportunity that is worth grasping out of the unspeakable tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Conn.

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