Barack Obama threw his political weight behind the campaign to reinstate a ban on assault weapons in a move that would be the most significant tightening of US gun laws in almost two decades.
By Peter Foster, Washington
Mr Obama’s decision to publicly support new legislation being proposed by a senior Democrat senator came two days after he called for unspecified “change” at a memorial service for the 20 child victims of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, USA.
The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said the president was “actively supportive” of the legislation being proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein that would ban weapons like the Bushmaster .223 that coroners said had claimed the majority of the young victims’ lives.
He added that Mr Obama would also support addressing the problem of the so-called “gun show loophole”, which enables buyers at gun shows to avoid background-checks, as well as curbs on ammunition clips larger than 10 rounds.
“He is actively supportive of, for example, Senator Feinstein’s stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the assault weapons ban,” Mr Carney said, “He supports – and would support legislation that addresses the problem of the so-called gun show loophole.” Mr Obama was also said to be “heartened” that three staunchly pro-gun Democrat senators with A-ratings from the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby – Harry Reid, Joe Manchin and Mark Warner – had come out in support of an assault weapon ban.
The news that Mr Obama was unequivocally supporting the reinstatement of Bill Clinton’s 1994 assault weapons – which was allowed to lapse in 2004 – is a major political boost for advocates of stricter gun control, but it does not guarantee the measure will pass Republican-controlled of Congress.
The Republican party is heavily influenced by the powerful National Rifle Association and garners much of its base support in southern states and rural areas that are traditional staunchly pro-gun.
The NRA has remained silent since the Sandy Hook shootings, refusing all media requests for comment and suspending its social media operations, but in a sign of the fight that lies ahead yesterday indicated that it was preparing to “push back” against any new controls.
“If we’re going to talk about the Second Amendment, then let’s also talk about Hollywood, and the video games that teach young kids how to shoot heads,” a source close to the NRA told Fox News, “If you really want to stop incidents like this, passing one more law is not going to do a damn thing. Columbine happened when? In 1999. Smack in the middle of the original assault-weapons ban.” The preparations for an aggressive pushback come as Congressional Republicans began showing some signs of accepting the need for action after Newtown, in the light of growing public anger.
That public mood was reflected in a new poll for CBS News released yesterday that found support for stricter laws at 57 per cent, a ten-year high.
After a weekly closed-door meeting, it was reported that several republican Congressmen were open, at least, to a debate on the gun issue, so long as it was comprehensive, taking in mental health policies and other social phenomena.
“Put guns on the table, also put video games on the table, put mental health on the table,” said Jack Kingston, a 10-term Republican congressman for the pro-gun southern state of Georgia who has a long history of endorsements from the NRA.
In one move that was also viewed as significant, Charles Grassley, the Republican senator for Iowa and senior republican on the Judiciary Committee that would probably be the starting point for any new legislation, suggested that a blue ribbon commission of “all stakeholders” be convened.
Some Republican analysts have warned that the party cannot afford to be pigeonholed as dogmatic on the gun issue, if it wants to broaden its electoral appeal following November’s election defeat to Mr Obama’s more progressive, liberal coalition.
Joe Scarborough, a former Florida Republican congressman and prominent cable news host, said the party would ‘lose’ if it did not heed the public’s increasingly angry public mood that has seen a petition on the White House website attract a record 180,000 signatures.
“Do they want to be seen as the party of Glocks? The party of Bushmasters? The party of combat-style, military weapons? Rapid-fire magazine clips?” he asked, “If they want to go around and debate that for the next four years, good luck.”
Families of the victims and survivors of recent gun massacres yesterday gathered for a rally in front of Congress demanding new gun laws, in a bid to keep pressure on Republicans and not allow the anger to fade, as it has following other recent mass-shootings.
Among them was Andri Nikitctyuk [CORR], whose own son survived the Newtown massacre only after a teacher pulled him out of the hallway and into a classroom. “If we could rewind the reality and prevent what happened I would give anything to do it,” he said.
He was joined by the parents of victims of the cinema massacre in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this year as well as families of those who died at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Columbine in 1999. The rally was organised by the Brady Campaign, the pro-gun control group named after Ronald Reagan’s press secretary who was shot during a 1981 assassination attempt.