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January 26, 2013

White House Takes Gun Control to American Public

by Kent Klein

The Obama administration is once again going to the American people to win support for one of its initiatives. The president and other White House officials are mounting a public campaign for passage of gun control legislation, evidenced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's appearance at a rally in Washington on Saturday. The march for stricter gun control laws concluded with a gathering at the Washington Monument, where Duncan called on Congress to approve President Barack Obama's initiatives to curb gun violence.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure that we pass legislation that makes our children and our families, our communities safer,” Duncan told the crowd. He said the administration’s agenda is focused on gun safety, not on taking away Americans’ constitutional right to own guns. The education secretary’s speech at the rally was part of the White House strategy to take its case to the public.

Vice President Joe Biden, whose recommendations formed the basis of  Obama’s gun initiative, has made several public appearances in the past few days on behalf of the effort. On Friday, Biden held a discussion of the issue with private citizens and local officials in Richmond, Virginia. The vice president also appeared on the Internet for what was called a “hangout” to discuss gun violence.

“If we can do something that, even if it only impacts on saving one life of a child or an individual out there, it is worth doing, but I think we can do a lot more than that.”

One piece of the administration’s agenda is a proposal to ban military-style assault weapons, like the ones used to kill 20 children and six adults at a school in Connecticut in December. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a bill to ban assault weapons.

“Weapons designed originally for the military to kill large numbers of people in close combat are replicated for civilian use," said Feinstein. "They fall into the hands, one way or another, of grievance-killers, of gangs, of those who are mentally unstable or ill.” Lawmakers, including Feinstein, have conceded that passing gun control legislation will be difficult.

Most Republicans in Congress, and even some Democrats, oppose it.  Many lawmakers support the powerful gun rights organization, the National Rifle Association.  Wayne LaPierre, who leads the NRA, recently said law-abiding citizens should be allowed to have as much firepower as criminals.

“We believe we deserve and have every right to the same level of freedom that our government leaders keep for themselves," LaPierre said.  "And the same capabilities and the same technologies that criminals use to prey upon us and our families. That means we believe in our right to defend ourselves and our families with semiautomatic firearms technology.”

Despite the difficult odds facing passage of an assault weapons ban, other administration initiatives to reduce gun violence stand a better chance of passage. Experts say proposals to strengthen background check requirements, better track and regulate the sale of guns and keep weapons away from the mentally ill are popular with the public.  

The Senate Judiciary Committee holds its first hearing on gun violence on next week.