Almost four months after a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school stirred calls to curb gun violence, President Barack Obama sought to boost flagging momentum in his drive for stricter firearms controls.
Flanked by teachers and mothers of gun-violence victims, Obama yesterday urged lawmakers to pass legislation to expand background checks on gun buyers, ban civilian sales of military-style rifles and limit the ammunition capacity of magazines.
“There’s absolutely no reason that we can’t get this done,” he said, calling the proposals the best chance in more than a decade for reducing gun violence. “None of these ideas should be controversial.”
The prospects for Obama’s gun-safety agenda have faded amid opposition in Congress and waning public enthusiasm for several of the initiatives. Senate leaders have ruled out the assault-weapons ban and magazine limits, while tighter background checks -- still backed in public polls -- face an uncertain outcome.
Obama spoke yesterday as investigators in Connecticut disclosed new details about the massacre and as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a pro-gun-control group, began a campaign of rallies, television advertisements and news briefings. Obama will travel to Denver next week to build support for his gun agenda.
In his remarks, Obama recalled how the Dec. 14 killing of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School reignited the national debate about gun violence.
“Less than 100 days ago that happened and the entire country was shocked,” he said. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
The rallies and TV ads, featuring families of those killed in Newtown, were organized by the mayors’ group led by New York’s Michael Bloomberg and Boston’s Thomas Menino. Bloomberg is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
In Phoenix, about 20 speakers and supporters gathered near City Hall, where the Rev. Warren Stewart of First Institutional Baptist Church urged, “Don’t just pray about it, contact your congressmen.” They then carried petitions downtown calling on Republican U.S. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain to support universal background checks on gun buyers and a ban on assault weapons.
At a library in north Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter spoke to about a dozen people. He was flanked by seven children wearing t-shirts labeled “Guns Gotta Go.” One boy, a 10-year-old named Kevin, told the mayor he knew twins who had both been shot in the head, Nutter said.
Authorities in Connecticut said yesterday that Adam Lanza, the shooter in the Newtown killings, spent less than five minutes in the Sandy Hook Elementary School building before taking his own life.
Lanza, 20, used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot and kill his mother, Nancy, 52, in her bed without a struggle on the morning of Dec. 14 before going to the school with a small arsenal including a Bushmaster .223-caliber XM-15 rifle, State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III in Danbury said yesterday.
After the massacre, Lanza killed himself with a shot from a 10 mm Glock pistol, Sedensky said. There were 14 rounds in the Bushmaster’s 30-round magazine and one in the chamber when it was recovered, and Lanza was carrying a loaded 9 mm Sig Sauer P226 pistol and three loaded magazines, Sedensky said. A loaded 12-gauge shotgun was found in his car.
Governor Dan Malloy said yesterday that Lanza used legally purchased high-capacity magazines and “we now know that he left the lower-capacity magazines at home.”
“This is exactly why we need to ban high-capacity magazines and why we need to tighten our assault-weapons ban,” Malloy said by e-mail from Hartford, the state capital.
U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada plans to call for votes next month on legislation that includes expanded background checks and penalties for gun trafficking. The bill won’t include limits on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which Reid says don’t have the votes to pass.
At least three Republican senators -- Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas -- have said they will block a vote on gun legislation.
The president’s proposals “reduce the constitutionally protected rights of law-abiding citizens while having little or no effect on violent crime,” Lee said in a statement. “It is deeply unfortunate that he continues to use the tragedy at Newtown as a backdrop for pushing legislation that would have done nothing to prevent that horrible crime.”
Public support for tighter gun control has fallen by 10 points, to 47 percent from a high of 57 percent just after the shootings, according to a national poll by CBS News. Ninety percent said they favor background checks for all would-be gun buyers.
The telephone survey March 20-24 of 1,181 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
In a March 25 interview on the NBC News program “Meet the Press,” Bloomberg announced a $12 million television ad campaign in 13 states urging senators to support universal background checks for gun purchases.
Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association, a gun-rights lobbying group based in Fairfax, Virginia, said the ads won’t persuade the public to support gun restrictions.
Appearing on the same NBC program, LaPierre called universal checks “a dishonest premise. Criminals aren’t going to be checked. They’re not going to do this.”