President Barack Obama is undertaking a week-long campaign, aided by families of victims in the Connecticut school shooting, to keep momentum going for what’s left of his gun-control proposals.
With some Republican senators threatening to block a vote on any measure that would restrict ownership of firearms, such as a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles like the one used in the Dec. 14 school massacre, Democrats are focusing on salvaging a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases.
Obama told an audience at the University of Hartford yesterday that “we will not walk away from the promises we’ve made,” as he pleaded for voters to make their voices heard.
“Now’s the time to get engaged,” he said at the school on the edge of Connecticut’s capital city. “Now is the time to push back on fear and frustration and misinformation.”
The president returned to Washington with a dozen relatives of the victims from the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, who plan to meet with senators of both parties as lawmakers resume work this week.
While Obama yesterday repeated his call for Congress to reimpose a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles and to limit ammunition-magazine capacity, those steps confront intense opposition from the National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun-rights lobby, and its allies in Congress. He focused his remarks on expanded background checks for firearms buyers, which has a better chance of passing.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania began talks last week on a possible compromise after the measure stalled in negotiations.
The background-check plan would be part of a package of gun-related legislation that includes anti-trafficking and school-safety steps. The full Senate is likely to consider the measure next week.
The president is trying to use public pressure to force votes on the issue. Republican senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida, said in a March 22 letter to Reid that they will use procedural tactics to block “any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions.” The letter also was signed by Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Sixty votes are required to cut off debate in the Senate, where 55 are controlled by Democrats.
“They’re not just saying they’ll vote ‘no’ on ideas that almost all Americans support,” Obama said. “They’re saying they won’t allow any votes on them at all. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.”
Obama was introduced by Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son, Dylan, was one of 20 children shot down by a gunman at the Newtown school.
She said that before her son was killed, when she would hear of a national tragedy she would mourn, wonder what she could do and eventually go back to her own life.
“Now there is no going back,” she said as she asked other Americans to join her. “Help this be the moment when real change begins.”.
Hockley was among the 12 relatives of Newtown victims who boarded Air Force One with Obama for the flight to Washington.
As he got off the plane, the president carried a red bag holding T-shirts emblazoned with “Team Vicki Soto,” honoring a 27-year-old Newtown first-grade teacher slain while protecting her students. Jillian Soto, Vicki’s sister, gave Obama the shirts, according to a White House official who asked not to be identified discussing the private matter.
Katherine Morosky, 35, a high school chemistry teacher whose 6-year-old daughter knew some of the children who died, said she hoped the Newtown group could pressure Congress to pass a measure requiring universal background checks.
She also said that until now, she felt that Obama hadn’t been doing enough to push for firearms restrictions.
“I think he’s been personally engaged but not as politically engaged,” Morosky said. “Coming here is saying that he’s put his energy back” into the effort.
The White House is planning events all week on the issue. Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder will hold an event today at the White House with law-enforcement officials and Biden will participate in an April 11 roundtable discussion about guns on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. First Lady Michelle Obama will travel to Chicago tomorrow to speak about children and violence.
In Hartford, Obama spoke in a state where Governor Dan Malloy, a Democrat, on April 4 signed a law that broadens gun-buyer background checks, bans sales of semiautomatic rifles like the one used in Newton and limits magazines to 10 rounds.
In the Newton massacre, Adam Lanza, 20, killed 20 students and six educators. Court documents show he brought 10 30-round magazines into the school, reloaded six times and fired 154 bullets from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle called a Bushmaster.
Malloy, who spoke to the University of Hartford crowd as Obama met with Newtown families before his speech, said the new state law “marks a turning point in the debate” and would help move the nation closer to getting universal background checks.
“I don’t care what the NRA says,” Malloy said. “It is time for change and we’re going to get it.”
While Obama originally sought a renewal of a federal ban on assault-style weapons and curbs on high-capacity magazines, the NRA has fought his legislative efforts. The president hasn’t been able to gain the support needed to adopt the measures.
Those restrictions will be offered as an amendment that stands almost no chance of passing the Senate.
Federal law has required background checks for all commercial sales since 1993, though there is no requirement for private sales or sales between individuals at gun shows.