President Obama gave a press conference Wednesday in which he reaffirmed his commitment to investigating a solution to gun violence. The president’s comments follow Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 people were killed by deranged gunman Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School – 20 of them children. See the statement below, and the transcript here:
"Over these past five days a discussion has re-emerged... that conversation has to continue, but time the words need to lead to action,” the president said. Demanding “real reforms, right now,” he also said he was putting Vice President Joe Biden in charge of a commission to investigate gun law reform. Obama said he expected “concrete proposals no later than January, proposals I then intend to push without delay,” adding “this is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and then publishes a report that gets read and then pushed aside.”
The President emphasized that most Americans agree that the government needs to take real action on firearm control:
“I’m also betting that the majority – the vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war.”
The President specifically announced his support for mandatory background checks on all gun purchases and closing the gun show loophole, as well as slammed Congress for not appointing a new head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for six years. He also stated that the majority of Americans support banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, a possible allusion to his expected support of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D - Calif.) proposed assault weapons ban. Similar legislation was passed in the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which banned specific weapons such as the TEC-DC9 semi-automatic handgun and the AR-15 assault rifle, a variant of which was used in the massacre. Obama specifically mentioned that former President Ronald Reagan was a supporter of the ban, a clear shot across the bow of the gun lobby and an appeal for bipartisan support. Some newly elected officials, such as Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren (D- Mass.), have been vocal in her opposition to assault weapons. On Wednesday, Warren said she was “heartbroken” and that Americans do not need “Rambo-style” weapons to hunt.
Was the president correct in his invocation of widespread support for controls on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips? As it turns out, yes, and by wide margins: a recent YouGov poll concluded that 51% of Americans support banning semi-automatic weapons, with 33% opposing. Just over half of Americans also support banning semi-automatic weapon clips holding more than ten rounds, with 32% saying no. Less than 2% of respondents had heard nothing about the massacre.
With the president’s statement and position clear, the ball is in the pro-gun lobby’s court.
The National Rifle Association will be giving an anticipated press conference on Friday concerning their response to the shootings, where they have pledged to make “meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”
It will be interesting to see whether they will cede any ground to the president and the gun control lobby, or whether they will join the chorus of gun advocates insisting that the answer to gun violence is more guns. They bitterly fought President Clinton and gun control advocates in 1994. Clinton says that during midterm elections, which coincided with the debates on the ban, “the gun lobby claimed to have defeated ninteteen of the twenty-four members on its hit list. They did at least that much damage and could rightly claim to have made Gingrich the House Speaker.”
The NRA is no pussycat – they contributed $17 million towards federal races this year, and spend 66 times more than the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence on lobbying. In terms of candidate contributions, they spent a staggering 4,143 times as much as the Brady Campaign, CNN said.
Not one of the 31 pro-gun rights senators rated favorably by the NRA volunteered to appear on Meet the Press or Face the Nation recently. The NRA will now have to marshal its immense resources to convince these senators to speak up in their defense, as well as pressure House Republicans and Democrats to fight any bans. According to Mother Jones’ research, 28 senators support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips, with 7 maybes, 9 in opposition, and 68 who have not commented.
Opposing guns is “a sure way to ensure there will be a primary opponent” for any candidate, said sociology professor Scott Melzer.
Even Feinstein admitted it will be difficult to find support for the bill, saying it was an “uphill road.” However, she pointed out that Congress was ultimately able to pass the ban in 1994 under similar opposition.