WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama called upon Congress yesterday to toughen America's gun laws to confront mass shootings and everyday gun violence, betting that public opinion has shifted enough to support the broadest push for gun control in a generation. At a White House event, Obama announced plans to introduce legislation by next week that includes a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, expanded background checks for gun purchases and tougher gun-trafficking laws to crack down on the spread of weapons across the country.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called upon Congress yesterday to toughen America’s gun laws to confront mass shootings and everyday gun violence, betting that public opinion has shifted enough to support the broadest push for gun control in a generation.
At a White House event, Obama announced plans to introduce legislation by next week that includes a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, expanded background checks for gun purchases and tougher gun-trafficking laws to crack down on the spread of weapons across the country.
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of these proposals .
Without waiting for Congress, the president also acted on his own authority, signing nearly two dozen executive actions designed to increase the enforcement of existing gun laws and improve the flow of information among federal agencies in order to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who shouldn’t have them.
The announcement, just four days before Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are sworn in for a second term, committed the administration to a high-profile and politically volatile legislative campaign that will test their strength for the four years to come. Obama vowed to rally the nation on an issue that he largely avoided in his first term and during both of his presidential campaigns.
“I will put everything I’ve got into this, and so will Joe,” he declared.
The president’s pledge to act was the culmination of a monthlong process that began after the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Yesterday’s announcement reflected a decision by the White House to seize on public outrage to challenge the political power of the National Rifle Association and other forces that have fought off new gun laws for decades.
In an emotionally charged event, Obama stood on a stage with four young children who he said had written to him asking for stronger gun laws. Invoking the memory of a young girl named Grace McDonnell who was killed in the Newtown shootings, the president vowed not to let the momentum for new, tougher gun laws fade.
“In the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality,” he said. “If there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”
The effort will be difficult and risky, as administration officials have acknowledged. Bruce Reed, Biden’s chief of staff, told a group of liberal activists on Tuesday night that passing the president’s proposals in Congress will be even tougher than it was to pass an assault-weapons ban in 1994, according to participants at the briefing.
Reactions to president
push toward extremes.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, said in a statement that “House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that.”Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, considered a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, quickly made it clear that Obama’s proposals will face opposition in Congress.
“Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook,” Rubio said. “ President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence.”
But the White House thinks the dynamic around guns might be changing, and the president has a window of opportunity that he cannot pass up. Obama and Biden will take their message across the country even as the White House and its allies begin an online effort to put pressure on lawmakers.
“I have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook,” Biden said. “The world has changed and is demanding action.”
The NRA appeared ready for the fight. It said it would work with Congress on efforts to secure schools, fix the mental-health system and prosecute criminals. But it criticized other options.
“Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation,” the group said in a statement. “Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected, and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”
The president and Biden described their plan as a comprehensive effort that includes four major legislative proposals and 23 separate executive actions.
The president called for renewing and strengthening a ban on the sale and production of military-style assault weapons that passed in 1994 only to expire in 2004. He also called for a ban on the production and sale of magazines with more than 10 rounds.
Obama’s plan also would require criminal background checks for all gun sales, closing the loophole that allows buyers to avoid such screenings by purchasing weapons at gun shows or from private sellers.
The background database, in place since 1996, has stopped 1.5 million sales to felons, fugitives, convicted domestic abusers and others, but today nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are exempt from the system.
The legislative effort will start in the Senate, which remains under Democratic control, unlike the House, which is led by Republicans. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he would hold the first hearings into the proposals on Jan. 30.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a pro-gun-rights Democrat from Nevada, was cautious, saying “ all options should be on the table” to reduce gun violence.
In the House, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, said he would carefully review the president’s proposals and would have a hearing “in the coming weeks” on enhancing school safety.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over gun legislation, expressed skepticism about an assault-weapons ban but openness to toughening background checks. He noted that the gunman in Connecticut obtained the weapons he used from his mother.
“If you’re talking about reinstating the assault-weapons ban or some other effort that’s been made in recent years, we don’t find that those things would lead to preventing these types of activities from occurring,” Goodlatte said on C-Span. “But we certainly 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.”
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., drew a firm line.
“The Second Amendment is non-negotiable,” he said. “The right to bear arms is a right, despite President Obama’s disdain for the Second Amendment and the Constitution’s limits on his power.”
At the White House yesterday, Obama also said he will nominate a new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency that regulates guns but has gone six years without a permanent leader confirmed by the Senate. Obama settled on Todd Jones, who has been acting director since September 2011.
In addition to the legislative efforts, White House officials stressed the actions that Obama is taking on his own.
In recent days, gun-rights advocates have accused the president of a power grab, saying they feared he would exceed his authority in an attempt to take their guns. But the list of executive actions is relatively modest, with most of the steps involving the president directing agencies to do a better job of sharing information.
Information from Reuters was included in this story.