WASHINGTON — Setting up a clash over Second Amendment rights, President Barack Obama proposed a series of actions Wednesday aimed at curbing gun violence, including a new ban on some semi-automatic weapons and on magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
“Like most Americans, I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms,” Obama said at a White House announcement.
“I respect our strong tradition of gun ownership and the rights of hunters and sportsmen. ... I also believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, lawbreaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale.”
The president's proposals — which call for congressional approval in some areas and federal agency actions in others — seek to keep all guns out of the hands of some people through expanded background checks and some guns out of the hands of all people through a ban on so-called military-style assault weapons.
Obama said he wants more government research on gun deaths, a national campaign to encourage gun owners to keep their guns safe, more police officers and mental health professionals in schools, training for “active-shooter” situations and more prosecutions on existing gun laws.
Vice President Joe Biden has been leading a task force on gun violence since shortly after the Dec. 14 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead. Obama's announcement on Wednesday was attended by children who wrote letters to the White House after the Newtown shootings; officials from Newtown and other towns where recent mass shootings have occurred were also present.
Assault weapons ban
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she plans to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Feinstein authored the assault weapons ban that was approved in 1994 and expired in 2004. The Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee pledged to hold hearings later this month on gun violence.
Many other congressional Democrats expressed support for the president's package, while Capitol Hill Republicans accused the president of proposing measures that would violate Second Amendment rights.
The National Rifle Association, which lobbies against gun restrictions, said Wednesday that “attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation.
“Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”
Oklahoma's all-GOP congressional delegation was mostly critical of the president's proposals, though Sens. Jim Inhofe, of Tulsa, and Tom Coburn, of Muskogee, commended some of the executive actions taken.
Coburn said he welcomed debate on the Senate floor about the proposals that would need congressional approval, including the assault weapons ban and the call to extend background checks to gun shows and private sales.
“However, as we debate these measures, we first must ensure our constitutional rights and individual liberties, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms, are protected,” Coburn said.
Gun control politics
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who has expressed opposition to an assault weapons ban, said Wednesday he was “committed to ensuring that the Senate will consider legislation that addresses gun violence and other aspects of violence in our society early this year.”
Gun control, while an easy political issue for Democrats from some parts of the country, is much trickier for others. Gun control measures approved in the early 1990s, during former President Bill Clinton's first term, were factors in the defeat of Democrats across the country. It was a lesson learned. When Democrats controlled the House and Senate during the first two years of Obama's presidency, no gun control measures were proposed.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in opinions issued in 2008 and 2010, ruled that the Second Amendment grants individuals the right to own guns, though the court said some restrictions would be allowed.
The court has yet to hear any cases that would begin defining the limits on gun ownership, though actions in some states to ban assault weapons could lead to challenges.