By Daniel Strauss - 01/13/13 11:00 AM EST
Rahm Emanuel, who put the brakes on gun control in the Obama White House, is now pushing for broad changes to firearm policies in Chicago.
Like President Obama, the Chicago mayor has long embraced gun-control policies, but at times has worked behind the scenes to thwart the movement.
In late December, Chicago attracted national attention when law-enforcement officials confirmed the city’s 500th homicide in 2012.
Emanuel has previously pushed new gun restriction laws and resisted them as well. When Emanuel served in the Clinton White House, he helped pass the assault weapons ban.
When he ran for the House in 2002, he vowed to toughen gun-control laws. During his primary race against former state Rep. Nancy Kaszak, gun-control activist Sarah Brady campaigned for Emanuel.
Years later at the helm of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Emanuel recruited candidates who supported gun rights. Some on the left ripped Emanuel for his recruiting efforts, but Democrats subsequently won back the House in 2006.
In 2009 while serving as Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel reportedly told Eric Holder to “shut the f--k up” after the attorney general suggested reinstating the assault weapons ban — which expired in 2004. Emanuel’s profanity-laced frustration with Holder was detailed in Daniel Klaidman’s book, “Kill or Capture.”
Gun-safety groups and political scientists say Emanuel has always had an interest in pushing appropriate gun restrictions. But Emanuel also knows timing is everything in politics, the experts say.
“Based on his political record it would suggest that as Obama’s chief of staff, he made a judgment that emanated more from politics than policy,” said Robert Spitzer, the author of “The Politics of Gun Control” and a professor at the State University of New York at Cortland.
In 2009, Spitzer continued, Emanuel was likely more focused on Obama’s primary goal of passing healthcare reform and calculated that there weren’t enough votes to pass gun laws.
“There’s always an element of Emanuel that has his finger” to the political winds, Spitzer said. Now though, Emanuel “has a constituency that would be supportive to gun control.”
That’s the way politicians have to think on topics that are controversial, says Kristin A. Goss, an assistant professor of public policy at Duke University and the author of “Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America.”
“You have to sort of wait for the political stars to align,” Goss said.
Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, called Emanuel a “political pragmatist.”
“I think he’s a guy who likes to take action on issues when he feels the time is ripe,” Everitt said.
Emanuel is poised to unveil the specifics of his new gun ordinance in the coming week. He is also scheduled to appear alongside Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) on a panel on gun reform hosted by the Center for American Progress on Monday.
In December, a few days after the Sandy Hook shooting, Emanuel appeared on CBS’s "This Morning" and was pressed about his record on gun laws and his confrontation with Holder in 2009. He didn’t dispute the conflict with Holder, and focused his comments on Obama’s priorities at the time.
“The fact is in 2009 the president and the entire government was very clear, as the attorney general knows, in getting all the president’s legislation done and working with Congress to do that,” Emanuel said.
At various times, Obama has been put on the defensive regarding his gun-control record. In 2010, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Obama an “F” grade. After the Connecticut shooting, an ABC News reporter asked Obama, “Where have you been [on gun control]?”
An irritated Obama listed his accomplishments over the last four years, adding, “I don’t think I’ve been on vacation.”
Emanuel’s office, meanwhile, notes that the mayor has always been an advocate for strong gun restrictions.
“He has a 20-year record of trying to get guns off of America’s streets,” spokesman Bill McCaffrey said, citing the Brady bill.
McCaffrey called the report of the confrontation with Holder a “third-hand account.”
Even if Emanuel seems to be factoring politics into his thinking on guns, it’s obviously the right time to pass new gun legislation, McCaffrey argued.
“Right now it is time to pass the legislation,” McCaffrey said.