February 5, 2013

Obama stands firm on gun control despite long odds

Julie Pace and Nedra Pickler / The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — President Barack Obama declared Monday on his first trip outside Washington to promote gun control that a consensus is emerging for universal background checks for purchasers, though he conceded a tough road lay ahead to pass an assault weapons ban over formidable opposition in Congress.

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President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks about his gun violence proposals on Monday at the Minneapolis Police Department's Special Operations Center in Minneapolis, where he outlined his plan before law enforcement personnel.

AP

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"We should restore the ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines," Obama said in a brief speech, standing firm on his full package on gun-control measures despite long odds. Such a ban "deserves a vote in Congress because weapons of war have no place on our streets or in our schools or threatening our law enforcement officers."

The president spoke from a special police operations center in a city once known to some as "Murderapolis" but where gun violence has dropped amid a push to address it from city leaders. Officers stood behind him, dressed in crisp uniforms of blue, white and brown.

The site conveyed Obama's message that a reduction in violence can be achieved nationally, even if Americans have sharp disagreements over gun control. That includes among members of his own party in Washington.

Suggesting he won't get all he's proposing, he said, "We don't have to agree on everything to agree it's time to do something."

The president unveiled his gun-control plans last month after the shootings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. But many of the proposals face tough opposition from some in Congress and from the National Rifle Association.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wants to give the bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines a vote. But he will not say whether he will support either, and advocates and opponents alike predict they are unlikely to pass.

Putting the controversial measures up for a vote could put some Democratic senators in a tough spot. That includes some from conservative-leaning states who are up for re-election next year and face the prospect of voting against either fervent gun-rights supporters or Obama and gun-control supporters in the party's base.

Reid himself came in for criticism for declining to stand with the president by Minneapolis' Democratic mayor, R.T. Rybak, who accompanied Obama while he was in town. "He's dancing around this issue and people are dying in this country," Rybak said of Reid on MSNBC.

Democratic lawmakers and aides, as well as lobbyists, say an assault weapons ban has the least chance of being approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee that is working up the legislation. They say a ban on high-capacity magazines is viewed as the next least likely proposal to survive, though some compromise version of it might, allowing more than the 10-round maximum that Obama favors.

Likeliest to be included are universal background checks and prohibitions against gun trafficking, they say. One lobbyist said other possible terms include steps to improve record keeping on resales of guns and perhaps provisions that would make it harder for mentally ill people from obtaining firearms.

Asked last week what was likely to be in his committee's bill, committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he didn't yet know but "I don't know how anybody can be opposed to universal background checks." He added, "I think gun trafficking, you've got to be able to close that. I don't know how anybody, anybody can object to that."

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