Obama says gun lobby stokes fear of federal action
By Michael Pearson
(CNN) — The gun lobby is “ginning up” fears the federal government will use the Newtown shooting tragedy, exactly one month ago, to seize Americans’ guns, President Barack Obama said on Monday.
At least part of the frenzy is little more than marketing, the president inferred.
“It’s certainly good for business he said,” responding at a news conference to a question about a spike in weapons sales and applications for background checks following the Connecticut massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 people, 20 of them children.
“Part of the challenge we confront is that even the slightest hint of some sensible, responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that somehow, ‘here it comes, everybody’s guns are going to be taken away,’” Obama said.
Amid expectations of intense opposition by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, Obama said he would review recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on gun violence on Monday ahead of a more detailed presentation later in the week.
While the final recommendations have not yet been made public, Biden has spoken of what he described as widespread support for universal background checks and restrictions on the sale of high capacity magazines, which gun-control advocates believe contribute to increased carnage at mass shootings.
Obama said he backs such measures and continues to support renewal of the Clinton-era assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
“My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works, what should we be doing to make sure our children are safe,” he told reporters. “I think we can do that in a sensible way that comports with the Second Amendment.”
Obama appointed Biden to lead the administration’s effort to come up with solutions to stem mass shootings after the Newtown massacre, demanding reforms by this month.
Biden led a series of meetings in recent weeks with gun control advocates, gun violence victims, the NRA and others — including talks on violence in media with television and film industry representatives.
He was meeting with congressional Democrats to discuss the proposals on Monday, according to a White House official.
That called into question Biden’s earlier remarks that a consensus was forming around a set of gun-policy recommendations in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings in December, which shook the nation and even temporarily silenced the National Rifle Association.
However, Monday’s discussion is only “part of a larger outreach effort that will involve other members of Congress as the administration explores legislative priorities,” a source familiar with the talks told CNN.
In addition to new gun restrictions, the package proposed by Obama may also include mental health provisions that could garner wider support. Some proposals — such as how the government tracks how weapons fall into the hands of criminals — could be accomplished by executive order, Obama said.
Other measures would require legislative approval, he said.
But any proposal to restrict gun ownership or widen background checks is expected to ignite an intense fight, meaning that selling gun control legislation to a divided Congress would be anything but a sure bet. The NRA has vowed to fight it tooth and nail, which includes an ad campaign.
“I would say that the likelihood is they’re not going to be able to get an assault weapons ban through this Congress,” NRA President David Keene said on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
However, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, said the public is demanding a change and predicted Congress would respond.
“This is a real tipping point,” Schiff said Monday on CNN’s “Starting Point. “The country has reached an awful fatigue with these repeated shootings.”
Both gun rights advocate and supporters of stricter gun control have reacted vehemently to the discussion so far.
A coalition of gun rights groups has scheduled “Gun Appreciation Day” for January 19, urging Americans to “go to your local gun store, gun range or gun show with your Constitution, American flags and your ‘Hands off my Guns’ sign to send a loud and clear message.”
But the shootings also have prompted a wide-ranging series of initiatives designed to rally Americans to counter the vast influence of the 4.2-million member NRA in Congress, including a political action committee formed by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly.
And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday at a Johns Hopkins University seminar on gun violence that more than one million people have signed a petition backed by his group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
He said such actions signal a change in public perceptions on gun issues sparked by the Newtown shootings.
“For many Americans, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said Monday.
Polling appears to support the contention.
Poll shows public dissatisfied with gun laws
A new Gallup poll released Monday shows 38% of Americans are dissatisfied with current gun laws and support stricter proposals. That is a 13 percentage point jump from a year ago.
The shift is most marked among men. The poll revealed a 17 percent increase in support for stricter gun control laws among men, compared to 10 percentage points for women. That may be because polling has shown women already tend to be more supportive of gun control legislation.
The increase spanned the partisan divide, however it was strongest with Democrats, 64 percent of whom said they favor additional regulations. That’s up 22 percentage points from last year, Gallup reported.
Among Republicans, support rose by 12 percentage points, but still stands at 18 percent overall.
The poll of 1,011 adults was conducted January 7-10 and has a sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.
In other developments:
New gun violence proposal in Maryland
Speaking at a Johns Hopkins University summit on reducing gun violence, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said he will debut gun control proposals this week that would ban military style assault weapons and limit the size of magazines and introduce a “common-sense licensing requirement for handguns that respects the traditions of hunters and sportsmen.”
The proposals would also include mental health reforms, O’Malley said.
Those include additional funds for treatment and efforts to detect and head off serious mental illness sooner. The plan also calls for investments is school safety, including a center to study ways to improve security at schools.
He said the issue isn’t a partisan one, but rather a public health issue, and said it “makes no sense to blame every factor but guns.”
“There may be no way to completely prevent the next Newtown tragedy,” he said. “But again, perhaps there is.”
The proposals come a week after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, another Democrat, spelled out tough new gun control proposals for his state.
Cuomo called for an assault weapons ban, background checks for people who purchase guns in private transations and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
One month since shooting
The one-month anniversary of the shooting went largely unmarked in any formal way, save for a moment of silence at a news conference held by a community group, “Sandy Hook Promise,” formed after the killings to find a solution to gun violence.
Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was among the children killed in the shooting, was among several parents who spoke.
“I still find myself reaching for Dylan’s hand to walk through a car parking lot, or expecting him to crawl into bed beside me for early morning cuddles before we get ready for school,” she said, her voice quavering. “It is so hard to believe he is gone.”
Others spoke of their resolve to ensure such violence ends.
“We have a responsibility to make something happen,” group co-founder Tom Bittman said. “We want Newtown to be remembered for change, not for this tragedy. We refuse to be remembered only for our loss. We want the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings to be recalled as the turning point when we brought our community, and communities across the nation, together and set a real course for change.”
CNN’s Josh Levs, Paul Steinhauser, Dan Lothian and Dana Bash contributed to this report.
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