Obama urges tougher gun laws: ‘A majority of Americans agree with us on this’
BY LYNN SWEET Twitter: @lynnsweet January 16, 2013 8:48PM
From left to right: Hinna Zeejah, 8, Taejah Goode, 10, Julia Stokes, 11, and Grant Fritz, 8, who wrote letters to President Barack Obama about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., watch as Obama signs executive orders outlining proposals to reduce gun violence, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Updated: February 19, 2013 2:28PM
WASHINGTON — In the wake of unending shootings, from massacres to murders in the Chicago streets, President Barack Obama unveiled sweeping plans Wednesday to curb gun violence, including actions he is taking right away and others needing congressional approval.
“A majority of Americans agree with us on this,” Obama said in urging Congress to act and anticipating opposition from the gun lobby.
However, the cool to frosty response to Obama’s proposals from leaders in the GOP-controlled House and lukewarm or no comments from some House Democrats mean it will be extremely difficult to get significant legislation passed anytime soon.
And in a hardball move, just hours before Obama announced his plans, the National Rifle Association released a video making it personal, accusing Obama of being an “elitist hypocrite” because his daughters have armed guards at their school. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney condemned the video, calling it “repugnant and cowardly.”
Obama’s proposals — from legislative to executive orders to long-term research — mark the first time he has tackled gun control, one of the most polarizing issues in U.S. politics.
His proposals include:
♦ Reinstating the assault weapons ban; the nation had one between 1994 and 2004.
♦ Mandating background checks on all gun sales by closing the “gun-show loophole” and covering private sales with “common sense” exceptions for family transfers. States will be offered federal money as an incentive to share information for these background checks.
♦ Limiting high-capacity magazines to 10 bullets.
♦ Banning possession of armor-piercing bullets; it already is illegal to make or import them to the U.S.
♦ Ending the freeze on gun-violence research.
♦ Bolstering mental health coverage for high-risk youths between the ages of 16 and 25.
♦ Outlawing straw or sham gun purchasers and toughening gun trafficking penalties.
♦ Launching a campaign to encourage use of gun safes and trigger locks.
♦ Providing funding to bolster security in schools.
A senior administration official, in a briefing call with reporters on Wednesday morning, said the broad intent of the gun package is to provide a comprehensive approach to deal with everything “from massacres to everyday gun violence.”
Since passing significant gun measures in Congress will pose a challenge, especially in the GOP-controlled House, the Obama package includes 23 actions Obama is taking on his own, including a new nominee for the director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms administration, B. Todd Jones, a Minnesota federal prosecutor. The post has been unfilled for six years as Obama’s original nominee was stalled in Congress and never confirmed.
Obama’s hand was finally forced after the shootings in Newtown, Conn., last month killed 20 students, six educators and the gunman’s mother.
The Sandy Hook school tragedy was only the latest massacre on Obama’s watch, coming after shootings in Oak Creek, Wis., Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz., and other places.
Biden task force
After Newtown, Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force to address gun violence, with orders to come up with proposals by the end of January. The Biden group held 22 meetings with 220 organizations in the past month.
One of the Biden meetings included Chicago Fire Department Capt. Annette Nance-Holt, whose son, Blair, was shot to death on a CTA bus in 2007 when he was a 16-year-old Julian High School student.
Since her son was murdered, Nance-Holt has become a gun-control crusader; she was invited back to the White House to be in the audience as Obama announced his plans.
Afterward she said of the Obama proposals, “I think this will save lives across the country.”
The most controversial elements for Congress will likely be banning military-style assault weapons and limiting ammunition magazines to 10 bullets.
An area where gun-rights advocates and anti-gun activists may find agreement is in requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales — including weapons sold at gun shows.
However, no measure in Congress usually gets a separate up-or-down vote and Obama’s gun measures are coming to lawmakers at the same time as fights over spending, the debt and immigration are brewing. Adding to the contention: Obama last week said he will not negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling.
The push for tougher gun curbs will start in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said his panel, which will handle the bulk of the legislation, will hold its first hearing on gun-related measures Jan. 30.
Gun-rights advocates massively fear that any discussion over curbing gun violence will end up limiting constitutional rights to bear arms. Obama tried to address those concerns by repeatedly labeling his proposals “common sense” with no threat to the Second Amendment.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Judiciary panel member who has been a leader in trying to curb gun violence, will hold a hearing on the Second Amendment and gun ownership next month. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, the rare Republican open to an assault-weapons ban, will be watched to see if he takes on a leadership role.
Legislation passing the Senate will meet an uncertain fate in the GOP-run House. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a frigid reception to the Obama package, saying through spokesman Michael Steel, “House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at it.”
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said in a statement: “Good intentions do not necessarily make good laws, so as we investigate the causes and search for solutions, we must ensure that any proposed solutions will actually be meaningful in preventing the taking of innocent life and that they do not trample on the rights of law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights.”
The NRA found nothing in the Obama package to support outright — not even calls to increase access to mental health services and closing background check loopholes, matters to which the NRA had been open.
The NRA said in a statement: “The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. We look forward to working with Congress on a bipartisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America’s most valuable asset — our children.”
The gun issue is very difficult for Democrats from conservative districts. Freshman Rep. Bill Enyart (D-Ill.) declined a meeting with Biden with other House Democrats and was critical of Obama for using any executive power to address gun-violence issues.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking at a Center for American Progress panel here Monday, said Democrats have to promise to help lawmakers if they get in a political jam over guns.
“We have a responsibility to support our friends if they take, quote, unquote, what’s called a ‘tough political vote.’ We’re going to be there through the thick and thin. That’s what loyalty, friendships and support is about,” said Emanuel, a top Democratic fund-raiser.
Selling the plan
The Obama White House is launching an extensive, campaign-style drive to build support for Congress to act.
A White House official told the Sun-Times that will include “outreach to a variety of stakeholder groups. We’ll continue to engage in coming weeks, months.” Obama and Biden will “get out of Washington to talk about this. Social media will continue.” There will be “continuing work with mayors, governors, law enforcement, parent and other groups, other groups we’ve been working with.”