WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama called on Congress to take action on gun control laws Wednesday. He acknowledged that it will be tough and highlighted Colorado’s new gun laws as a step in the right direction.
The president is working to keep up momentum on the issue as the Senate prepares for a vote on national gun control measures next week.
“I’ve come to Denver today in particular because Colorado is proving a model of what’s possible,” Obama said at the Denver Police Academy, not far from suburban Aurora where a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater in July 2012.
Since then, Colorado has introduced a series of gun control bills. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) signed three measures last month just hours after Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, was shot and killed at his front door.
The new Colorado laws limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, require universal background checks for firearms sales, and make the gun purchaser pay for the background check. The laws passed despite strong support in the state for gun ownership.
“I believe there doesn’t have to be a conflict in reconciling these realities,” Obama said. “There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights.”
The Senate will vote on national gun control measures next week, following a two-week Easter recess, during which public support for the bill has waivered.
The bill includes measures that would broaden the use of background checks to include private gun sales and make it illegal to buy a gun for someone who is legally barred from owning one—known as straw-purchasing. A third measure would direct more funding toward school safety programs.
Pro-gun supporters, however, have said that the proposed gun laws will not reduce gun violence and that there are already laws in place that are not being enforced.
“Let’s see what can be accomplished by enforcing laws on the books before adding new ones of questionable effectiveness,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, at the committee’s hearing on the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.
A fourth measure, the assault weapons ban, was going to be proposed but died before the bill even made it to the floor. The measure, which would ban 157 specific assault weapons as well as high-capacity magazines, did include exemptions for legally owned guns, manual guns, and shotguns and rifles.
According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the measure simply did not have the support it needed. He conceded that it may be considered as an amendment.
“I’m not going to try to put something on the floor that won’t succeed,” Reid said at the hearing. “I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there.”
Gun control advocates and pro-gun lobbyists have both ramped up their campaigns leading up to the Senate vote.
Under the leadership of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, full-page ads appeared in major media in support of the gun laws. On the National Day To Demand Action last week, March 28, over 100 rallies were held around the country, and thousands of people posted statements on Twitter and Facebook.
The pro-gun lobby has also been increasing the pressure on members of Congress, particularly democratic senators in conservative states who will be up for reelection in 2014.
“I don’t take gun advice from the mayor of New York City. I listen to Arkansans,” Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said in a statement about Bloomberg’s ads.
Republicans, who had indicated they would support certain measures, are now hesitating.
“Universal background checks is a bridge too far for most of us,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
On Tuesday, a group funded by the National Rifle Association released a report on school safety. The announcement at the National Press Club (NPC) in Washington, D.C., makes a number of recommendations, including arming and training at least one staff member per school.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who was speaking on gun control at the NPC the same day, said that individual schools should be able to decide what to do, but he does not think that having more guns in schools is the answer.
Cummings, who lost a nephew to gun crime in 2011, has introduced legislation in the House that designates gun trafficking as a federal crime. The bill received bipartisan support and had over 100 sponsors, according to Cummings.
There is a long way to go, however, before gun control legislation will make it to the president’s desk, but Cummings has said that he will continue to fight for it as long as he lives.
“It will be a tough fight, but it will be a fight worth fighting,” Cummings said.