From the appearance on stage of young children who wrote to him after the Newtown, Conn. tragedy, to his fighting words about those who “gin up fear” for “higher ratings or more revenue,” President Barack Obama left no doubt Wednesday afternoon he was in the fight for stricter gun control legislation for the long haul. In contemplating what the president might want his legacy to be, Obama seemed to be answering them: he wants part of it to focus on tougher gun regulations.
Turning to Vice President Joseph Biden as he closed his remarks calling for stricter gun laws, the president vowed to put “everything I’ve got in this. So will Joe.” He then proceeded to sign the 23 executive acts he had earlier spelled out, including those dealing with background checks for gun owners and more medical research into mental illness. Referring to the efforts of lawmakers to thwart greater mental health research by reducing funds for the Center for Disease Control, Obama said: “You don’t benefit from ignorance.”
But, in obvious recognition of the limitations of what a president can do through executive acts, he quickly added that they were “in no way a substitute for acts of Congress.” He then spelled out the measures that the administration was going to work hard to enact: a universal background check for anyone trying to buy guns, a ban on military assault weapons, and a 10-round cap on magazines of ammunition.
“(Assault weapons) are weapons designed for the theater of war and not the movie theater,” Obama said, referring to the shooting at the movie theater in Columbine, Colo. last year.
From the president’s remarks, it was obvious that his top priority would be restoring the ban on assault weapons, which expired during George W. Bush’s administration. In Obama’s words, the ban “was never meant to expire” and “there would be more Americans alive” if it had not expired.
He then lashed out at organizations and talk show hosts who charged he is trying to violate the Second Amendment. Without naming names, he said they “gin up fear” in pursuit of “higher ratings or more revenue” and, in his view, they “block common sense reform.”
As if to gear up for a protracted and emotional battle with gun proponents in Congress, Obama conceded that past efforts to establish tougher gun control laws had not met with success. But, he added, there has been “too much pain to allow this to continue.” The president also recognized that only when sportsmen and hunters themselves and people from states not known for strong gun control advocacy join with him in his latest fight, then–and only then–“change will come.”
“This time must be different,” he concluded.
Receiving support from people other than those he called “the usual suspects,” may well determine whether the president’s latest crusade is successful and becomes part of his legacy.