WASHINGTON--In the wake of unending gun violence, from massacres to murders in the Chicago streets, President Barack Obama unveiled sweeping plans Wednesday to curb gun violence, including actions he is taking right away and others that need Congressional approval.
"A majority of Americans agree with us on this," Obama said in urging Congress to act and anticipating opposition from the gun lobby. "And by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994 urging them -- this is Ronald Reagan speaking -- urging them to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons."
"And finally, Congress needs to help rather than hinder law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this," Obama said.
Obama's proposals--from legislative to executive orders to long term research--mark the first time Obama has tackled gun control, one of the most polarizing issues in U.S. politics. His hand was finally forced after the shootings in Newtown, Ct. last month which 20 students, six educators and the gunman's mother.
The Sandy Hook school tragedy was only the latest massacre on Obama's watch, coming after shootings in Oak Creek Wisc., Aurora, Col. and Tucson, Ariz. and other places.
After Newtown, Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force to address gun violence after Sandy Hook with orders to come up with proposals by the end of January. The Biden group held 22 meetings with 220 organizations in the past month.
"The world has changed and demanded action," Biden said at the White House announcement of the recommendations.
The most controversial elements for Congress will likely be banning military-style assault weapons and limiting ammunition magazines to ten bullets. A area where gun rights advocates and anti-gun activists may find agreement is in requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales--including weapons sold at gun shows.
The push for tougher gun curbs will start in the Democratic-controlled Senate with any measure that passes meeting an uncertain fate in the House. Senate Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the panel will hold its first hearing on gun control measures on Jan. 30.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a very cool reception to the Obama package through a spokesman, Michael Steel who said in a statement, "House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at it."
The National Rifle Association, the major gun lobby in the U.S. found nothing in the Obama package to support outright, even his call to increase access to mental health services. The NRA said in a statement, "Throughout its history, the National Rifle Association has led efforts to promote safety and responsible gun ownership. Keeping our children and society safe remains our top priority.
"The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America's most valuable asset - our children.
"Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy."
A senior administration official, in a briefing call with reporters on Wednesday morning said the broad intent of the gun package is to provide a comprehensive approach to deal with everything "from massacres to everyday gun violence."
Since passing significant gun measures in Congress will pose a challenge, especially in the GOP-controlled House, the Obama package includes 23 actions Obama is taking on his own, including a new nominee for the director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms administration, a post left unfilled for years as Obama's original nominee was stalled in Congress and never confirmed.
The Obama White House is launching an extensive, campaign-style drive to build support for Congress to act. A White House official told the Sun-Times that will include "outreach to a variety of stakeholder groups. We'll continue to engage in coming weeks, months." Obama and Biden "get out of Washington to talk about this. Social media will continue." There will be continuing work with mayors, governors, law enforcement, parent and other groups, other groups we've been working with."
Further evidence of the hurdles the Obama proposals face comes from chilly reception from House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.); his panel would handle much of the proposed legislation and would be ground zero for the gun battles to come.
"House Republicans welcome the recommendations of this task force and will consider them as the House continues to examine ways to prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown. However, 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. We will take these recommendations into consideration as we continue to conduct our own inquiries into how to prevent these tragedies from happening," Goodlatte said.
Highlights of the proposals include:
*Reinstating the assault weapons ban; the nation had one in place between 1994 and 2004.
*Mandating background checks on all gun sales.
*Limiting high capacity magazines to 10 bullets.
*Banning armor-piercing bullets.
*Ending the freeze on gun violence research.
*Bolstering mental health coverage for youths.