President Barack Obama launched the most ambitious gun-control effort in nearly two decades on Wednesday, calling on a divided Congress to pass a raft of policy proposals little more than a month after a gunman fatally shot 20 first-graders and six educators at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Obama announced the package of legislative proposals and 23 executive actions five days before he is sworn in for his second term, ensuring that gun control, a subject that made virtually no appearance on the presidential campaign trail or in his first term, will play a prominent role alongside fiscal and immigration debates in the 113th Congress. But with House Republicans showing little willingness to embrace new restrictions on firearms, the president also kicked off a national lobbying campaign designed to increase public pressure on lawmakers to enact his policy goals.
“This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged,” Obama said during an appearance with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and advocates, including four children who wrote to him to urge action in the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting.
“The most important changes we can make depend on congressional action,” he added. “They need to bring these proposals up for a vote, and the American people need to make sure that they do.”
Key House Republicans, however, issued cool responses to the president’s call for action.
“House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that.”
House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., said Republicans “welcome the recommendations,” but he also struck a cautionary note for Obama.
“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,” Goodlatte said.
Guns, Ammunition, Background Checks
The president called on Congress to renew and strengthen the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, including a prohibition on the future manufacture of all ammunition magazines containing more than 10 rounds.
He is expected to throw his support behind a legislative proposal set to be introduced next week by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has said her bill will ban the future manufacture of at least 100 different kinds of semiautomatic guns “by name” and also will place new restrictions on the millions of such firearms currently in private possession by subjecting them to registration and other requirements. A senior administration official emphasized that there are no plans to confiscate any such firearms already in circulation.
“We’re not going to go after the existing stock of weapons and magazines,” the official said. “We’re going to limit the manufacture of assault weapons and clips going forward.”
Obama also urged lawmakers to require that all gun sales be subject to background checks in order to ensure that prospective buyers are not within the existing categories of disqualified purchasers, such as those with criminal histories or those facing mental health problems. Background checks now capture about 60 percent of all gun sales but are not conducted for private, person-to-person sales, including those at gun shows.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.