Obama pledges plan for firearms
He calls for dialogue on access to mental health care, violent images.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that he would make gun control a “central issue” as he opens his second term, promising to submit broad new firearm proposals to Congress no later than January and to employ the full power of his office to overcome deepseated political resistance.
Leading House Republicans responded to the president’s pledge in the aftermath of the Connecticut school massacre by restating their firm opposition to enacting new limits on guns or ammunition, setting up the possibility of a bitter legislative battle and a philosophical clash over the Second Amendment soon after Obama’s inauguration.
Having avoided a politically fraught debate about guns for four years, Obama vowed to
restart a national conversation about their role in American society, the need for better access to mental health services and the effect of exceedingly violent images in the nation’s culture.
He warned that the conversation — which has often produced little serious change after previous mass shootings — will be a short one, followed by specific legislative proposals that he intends to campaign for, starting with his State of the Union address next month.
“This time, the words need to lead to action,” Obama said. “I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”
At an appearance in the White House briefing room, the president said that he had directed Vice President Joe Biden to lead an interagency effort to develop what the White House said would be a multifaceted approach to preventing mass shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn., last week and the many other gun deaths that occur each year.
Flanked by Biden, the president signaled his support for new limits on high-capacity clips and assault weapons, as well as a desire to close regulatory loopholes affecting gun shows. He promised to confront the broad progun sentiment in Congress that has for years blocked gun control measures.
That opposition shows little signs of fading away. While the death of 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday appears to have persuaded some Democratic lawmakers to support new gun control measures, there has been little indication that Republicans who control the House — and are in a standoff with Obama over taxes — are willing to accept such restrictions.
House Democrats urged Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday to bring a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines to a vote by Saturday, a step he is highly unlikely to take.
Rep. Jim Jordan, ROhio, an influential conservative leader, said in a statement that “it is clear that criminals will always find ways to acquire weapons and use them to commit acts of violence.”
“Passing more restrictions on law-abiding citizens will not deter this type of crime,” he said.
Jordan and other House Republicans declined to be interviewed, saying through aides that it was time to mourn, not to debate policy.
“There will be plenty of time to have this conversation,” said Brittany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Rep. Steve King, RIowa, “but it is not amidst the funerals of these brave young children and adults.”
One senior Republican, Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, signaled an openness to review Obama’s proposals.
“As the president said, no set of laws will prevent every future horrific act of violence or eliminate evil from our society, but we can do better,” Sensenbrenner said in an emailed response to questions.
Sensenbrenner noted that he had co-sponsored the Brady gun control bill in the 1990s. “Our country must also grapple with difficult questions about the identification and care of individuals with mental illnesses,” he said.
On Wednesday, the president said that Biden’s group would propose new laws and actions in January, and that those would be “proposals that I then intend to push without delay.” Obama said Biden’s effort was “not some Washington commission” that would take six months and produce a report that will be shelved.
“I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these new measures next year, in a timely manner,” Obama said.
White House aides said Biden would meet with law enforcement officials from across the country on Thursday, along with Cabinet officials from the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Education and Health and Human Services.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York praised Obama’s announcement and said he offered his “full support” to Biden in a phone conversation on Wednesday.