Obama backs gun limits, concedes tough fight ahead
President Barack Obama endorsed controversial bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines Monday, as well as stricter background checks for gun buyers — but conceded he may not win approval of all in a Congress reluctant to tighten restrictions.
“Will all of them get through this Congress? I don’t know,” said Obama. He said lawmakers would have to “examine their own conscience” as they tackle gun-control legislation after the horrifying Connecticut school shootings but in the face of opposition from the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun-rights groups.
Obama spoke at a midday White House news conference one month after the Newtown elementary school rampage, which ignited a national discussion on preventing mass shootings.
The president said he would unveil a comprehensive road map for curbing gun violence within days. His plan will be based on recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden’s gun task force and is expected to include both legislative proposals and steps Obama can implement by himself using his presidential powers.
But the most sweeping and contentious elements — including an assault-weapons ban — will require approval from a Congress that has been loath to tackle gun-control legislation for more than a decade. The politically powerful NRA has vowed to fight any measure that would limit access to guns and ammunition, a hardline position that could sway some Republicans and conservative Democrats.
Despite the opposition, Obama said he would “vigorously pursue” measures to tighten gun laws.
“My starting point is not to worry about the politics,” he said.
The president’s new resolve follows a lack of movement in tackling gun violence throughout much of his first term, despite several high-profile shootings. He called the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School the worst day of his presidency and vowed to take action.
Parents of the slain Connecticut children added their voices to the national dialogue Monday. Members of the newly formed group Sandy Hook Promise called for an open-minded discussion about a range of issues, including guns, mental health and safety in schools and other public places.
And lawmakers in New York state pressed ahead with what would be the nation’s first gun-control measure approved since the school shootings. Among the items in a tentative agreement in the state Legislature are further restrictions on the state’s ban on assault weapons, limits on the size of magazines to seven bullets, down from the current 10, and more-stringent background checks for sales.
White House officials believe moving swiftly on gun proposals at a national level, before the shock over the Newtown shooting fades, gives Obama the best chance to get his proposals through Congress. Several pro-gun-rights lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, said in the days after the shooting that they were open to discussing possible control measures.
Seeking to keep up the pressure on lawmakers, Obama said Monday that if “everybody across party lines was as deeply moved and saddened as I was by what happened in Newtown, then we’re going to have to vote based on what we think is best.”
Officials said Obama and Biden met Monday afternoon to discuss the vice president’s recommendations. Ahead of that meeting, Biden huddled with a dozen House Democrats who have formed their own gun-violence task force and whose political muscle will be needed to push legislation through Congress.
The president, without mentioning the NRA, said some gun-rights groups have “a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that somehow the federal government’s about to take all your guns away,”
Seeking to ease those fears, Obama insisted that responsible gun owners who have weapons for protection or hunting “don’t have anything to worry about” under the proposals he will push.
The assault-weapons ban, which Obama has long supported, is expected to face the toughest road on Capitol Hill. Congress passed a 10-year ban on the high-grade military-style weapons in 1994, but supporters didn’t have the votes to renew it once it expired in 2004.