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Obama on Gun Control

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Obama Calls for Further Developments on Gun Control

Michael Watts

In the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre in Connecticut, President Obama urged Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, expand background checks, and toughen gun-trafficking laws. Knowing that the legislative fight will be long and hard, Obama also issued a series of executive actions for the purpose of reducing gun violence. Inspired by children who wrote him letters seeking curbs on guns, Mr. Obama dedicated himself to a crucial political campaign behind proposals produced by Vice President, Joseph R. Biden Jr. that will challenge the administration’s strength for the next four years.

“I will put everything I’ve got into this,” Mr. Obama said, “and so will Joe.”

The tear-jerking ceremony, attended by family members of those killed at Sandy Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., launched a decision by the White House to take ahold of public outrage to question the political power of the National Rifle Association and other such organizations that have successfully fought for gun rights for years. The White House is preparing a flexible effort to sell its plans, including speeches around the country by the president and vice president and lobbying by interest groups to motivate lawmakers from both parties seen as important to passage. The White House designed a Web page with video testimonials from victims of gun violence and a sign-up for supporters to help defend the president’s plan (you can view this web page at http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/preventing-gun-violence).

“I tell you the only way we can change is if the American people demand it,” the President said, “And, by the way, that doesn’t just mean from certain parts of the country. We’re going to need voices in those areas, in those Congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong, to speak up and to say this is important. It can’t just be the usual suspects.”

The NRA clearly stated that it was ready for a fight. Way before Obama’s statement, it broadcast a video calling Mr. Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for denying the proposal for placing more armed guards in schools while his daughters had Secret Service protection. After Obama’s speech, the group said it would attempt to secure schools, adjust the mental health system, and prosecute criminals, but criticized the President’s other proposals.

“Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation,” the N.R.A. said. “Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected, and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”

President Obama’s plan included 4 major legislative proposals and 23 executive actions that he launched on his own authority in order to enforce existing laws, improve the country’s database used for background checks in order to make it more difficult for criminals and those individuals with mental illnesses to obtain guns.

Mr. Obama asked Congress to reinstate and strengthen a ban on the sale and production of assault weapons that passed in 1994 and expired in 2004. He also proposed for a ban on the sale and production of magazines with more than 10 rounds, like those used in Newtown and other mass shootings. Mr. Obama’s plan would demand criminal background checks for all gun sales, closing the loophole that allows buyers to be dismissed from screening by buying weapons from unlicensed sellers at gun shows or private sales. About 40% of all gun sales are exempt from the system. He also proposed legislation banning the possession of transfer of armor-piercing bullets and to restrain “straw purchasers,” those who pass background checks and then forward guns to criminals or others who aren’t allowed to purchase them.

While the President has always wanted support for an assault weapons ban, he has made no effort to pass it on the assumption that the votes were not there. However, he and the White House are betting on the idea that the Newtown shooting has changed the movement.

“I have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook,” Mr. Biden said. “The world has changed and is demanding action.”

The future of the plan may depend on how much effort Mr. Obama puts into it, not just to influence Republicans, but to win over Democrats who support gun rights. Even the White House thinks passage of a new assault weapons ban will be difficult, but there did seem to be some agreement for expanding background checks.

Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, thought that an assault weapons ban would be ineffective. “But in terms of background checks, in terms of keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals and people who have serious mental health difficulties, we want to do that, and we would take a close look at that.”

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