President Obama made his strongest comments since 2008 on gun control in a speech before the National Urban League last night, arguing for a variety of limits on gun proliferation:

With the last public event of a four-day trip that started with a visit to the Aurora, Colo., hospital where almost two dozen victims were brought after the shootings, Obama said he supports measures to conduct background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, fugitives and the mentally ill.

“These steps shouldn’t be controversial, they should be common sense,” he told the National Urban League conference [...]

“I – like most Americans – believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms,” Obama said. “I think we recognize the traditions of gun ownership passed on from generation to generation, that hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage.

“But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers and not in the hands of crooks. They belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities,” he added.

This doesn’t necessarily stand in contrast to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s statement that the Administration would try to work with existing laws on gun safety. There was an acknowledgement here that the current makeup of Congress makes any legislation politically impossible. But a President can say what he wants.

The choice of venue is significant. The National Urban League was the setting, and I would say that Obama’s comments were as much a reaction to the Trayvon Martin shooting as the Aurora massacre. Gun violence has decimated minority communities, and those communities are starved for leadership on the issue from the biracial President currently in power. So he tread out on a limb, however lightly. The NRA didn’t even bother to respond to this, as the environment is currently too politically freighted. But they also know that this is all basically hollow rhetoric.

President Obama said that talk of legislation always follows senseless tragedies, and then “too often those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere. But what I said in the wake of Tucson is we’re going to stay on this persistently.” This isn’t true. Obama basically never came back to this topic himself until a different tragedy 18 months later, and for the exact same reason – politics and lobbying. So while some may see this as hopeful, I see it as the same part of this depressing theater performance Democrats put on around mass shootings, which won’t end without something more than rhetoric.