By Paul West
1:41 PM EST, January 16, 2013
WASHINGTON – A somber President Obama, launching a public campaign Wednesday for a package of gun-control measures that is likely to face very tough opposition in Congress, signaled that he was prepared to go over the heads of lawmakers to push for his proposals.
In an effort to capitalize on emotions from last month’s massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, Obama couched his initiative in the context of protecting children from needless violence, and White House aides placed four children onstage with him to dramatize his plea.
“This will be difficult,” Obama said. “There will be pundits and politicians and special-interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty — not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear, or higher ratings, or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any commonsense reform.”
Obama said his response to that opposition will be to try to mobilize public support, not just from the “usual suspects,” a reference to liberals and residents of urban areas and coastal states, but also “in those areas, in congressional districts, where the tradition of gun-ownership is strong” — such as rural areas, including large swaths of the Midwest, South and Mountain West.“I will put everything I’ve got into this,” Obama said, but added, “This will not happen unless the American people demand it.”
In a sign of just how difficult it will be to force legislative action, Obama called on the public to demand that Congress bring the proposals up for a vote, and put pressure lawmakers who oppose his plan.
“Ask them what’s more important, doing whatever it takes to get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns ,or giving parents some little peace of mind when they drop their children off for first grade,” he said.
In response, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a cautious statement, promising only that the GOP-controlled House would “review these recommendations” and hinting that the House might choose to wait to see if the Senate acts before bringing a measure to the floor.
The most significant package of gun-control legislation in decades, Obama’s proposal includes a requirement for universal background checks for all firearms purchases.
“This is common sense, and an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with us,” the president said, citing a survey that he said indicated that 70 percent of National Rifle Assn. members support such a move. The NRA has repeatedly blocked past efforts to require universal background checks. As a result, those checks are not required for about 40 percent of guns sales—including those at gun shows and private transfers.Obama also wants to reinstate a ban on military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, like the one that expired in 2004.
Police have said that Adam Lanza, the shooter in last month’s Connecticut elementary school shootings, used a 30-round magazine, similar to those used by gunmen in other recent mass shootings.
Obama pointed to past support for an assault-weapons ban by President Reagan. Such a measure was approved in 1994, when Bill Clinton was president, but was allowed to expire 10 years later, after the public support that provided the impetus for the restrictions had waned.
Obama acknowledged that “there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence” but that “if there is even one life that can be saved, then we have an obligation to try.”
He also reiterated his past support for the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right of gun ownership, but also emphasized that victims of gun violence had suffered a loss of constitutional rights — including health and happiness and the right to assemble peaceably.Obama also wants the federal government to provide incentives to help local school districts hire “resource officers” — a euphemism for armed guards—at those schools that want them, a proposal that coincides with the NRA’s call for more armed protection inside school buildings. He also called for better training for local law enforcement and school officials to deal with active-shooter situations.
He said he would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study ways to reduce gun violence and “Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds.”
During a ceremony at the White House complex, Obama made frequent references to last month’s shooting Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead. Some of the victim’s families were in the audience, including the parents of Grace McDonnell, 7, who gave the president a painting by their daughter when he visited Newtown last month.
Obama said the painting now hangs in his private study, just off the Oval Office, and that every time he sees it, “I think about how, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now, for Grace, for the 25 other innocent children and devoted educators who had so much left to give.”
After speaking for just more than 15 minutes, the president signed a directive related to a series of executive actions, which like the legislative proposals, were the result of an administration study group, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, created after the Newtown shootings.Biden, in remarks introducing Obama, addressed gun-control advocates, some of whom have been critical of the administration for not attempting more ambitious reforms.
“We should do as much as we can as quickly as we can,” said Biden, a veteran of past legislative struggles over guns, cautioning against allowing “the perfect” to become “the enemy of the good.”