Obama pledges plan for firearms

He calls for di­a­logue on ac­cess to men­tal health care, vi­o­lent im­ages.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael D. Shear

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.

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