Obama administration guns for assault-weapons ban
Congress’s leading supporter of the assault-weapons ban reacted with surprise and praise after Attorney General Eric Holder indicated the administration will push to renew the ban that expired in 2004.
“I was thrilled by it,” said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), whose 1996 run for Congress was fueled by outrage at the cancellation of the ban. “We’ll continue to work with him. The president realizes this is real.”
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who controls the House agenda, indicated she has little interest in fighting for more gun control. The Speaker gave a flat “no” when asked if she had talked to administration officials about the ban.
“On that score, I think we need to enforce the laws we have right now,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference. “I think it's clear the Bush administration didn’t do that.”
Outside of the dig at the recent Republican president, that phrase is the stock line of those who don’t want to pass new gun control laws, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Asked about the assault-weapon regulations during a press conference in Phoenix on combating drug cartels in Mexico, Holder said, "Well, as President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons. I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico at a minimum."
Pressed on whether the administration has a timetable and if Congress would tackle the issue in 2009, Holder responded, "Well, it’s something, as I said, that the president talked about during the campaign. There are obviously a number of things that are — that have been taking up a substantial amount of his time, and so I’m not sure exactly what the sequencing will be. It is something, however, that we still think would be an appropriate thing to do."
The NRA, which staunchly opposes the ban, is one of the most powerful and effective lobbying organization in Washington. And it came out swinging after Holder's comments.
“We’re going to fight the ban. We’re going to score the vote,” said Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist. “President Obama spent tens of millions of dollars campaigning as a pro-Second Amendment candidate. So maybe he thinks he has enough political capital to do this. But I’m sure there are some Democrats at the White House and Capitol Hill who are cringing right now.”
One of those cringing was Rep. Gene Green, a conservative Democrat from Texas. He agreed that his fellow centrists from Southern and Western states won’t like to hear that the administration is pushing gun control.
"With all the problems the country is facing, that's something I don't think they should be focusing on right now,” Green said.
“Scoring” a vote means that the NRA will use the vote to determine its rating of each lawmaker. Such ratings influence where the NRA gives money, and many NRA members use it to determine their vote. Members from rural and conservative districts often prize their “A-ratings” from the NRA.
Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), a member of a new task force on gun rights, issued a release saying he disagreed "with President Obama's announcement [on Thursday] that called for a renewal of the assault weapons ban."
“It looks as though with this announcement we’ve been handed our first big fight,” said Matheson.
McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son paralyzed in the 1993 Long Island Railroad shooting, said she hopes she can win Pelosi’s support to bring up the ban.
“I understand why she is doing that,” McCarthy said. “I’m hoping President Obama can convince her otherwise.”
The White House declined to comment on Holder’s remarks, referring calls to the Department of Justice (DoJ). A department spokesman did not immediately comment for this article.
A Democratic leadership aide said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — a supporter of gun rights — will not be commenting because Holder was answering a question and not announcing a new DoJ initiative.
Democrats in recent years have shied away from pushing gun control. President Clinton pushed hard for some restrictions after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, but many Democrats believe that Al Gore lost key states in his 2000 presidential bid – including his home state of Tennessee – because of his stance on guns.
President George W. Bush endorsed the renewal of the assault -weapons ban but did not call on Congress five years ago — then controlled by the GOP — to extend it.
Democrats’ grip on Congress rests with a large number of Democrats from conservative districts where the NRA is strong and gun control is unpopular. Republicans have repeatedly sought to force those conservative Democrats to take tough votes on gun issues.
House Democratic leaders have generally tried to help those conservative Democrats avoid such votes.
Gun control advocates had been waiting to see what the Obama administration was going to do on the gun front. But they had expected him to focus on repealing appropriations riders that limit data collection on gun purchases, and requiring background checks on gun purchases, often referred to as “closing the gun-show loophole.”
Obama’s position on guns has not been in line with the NRA's, but he has not always pleased gun control advocates, either. During the campaign, he said he considered gun ownership to be an individual right, rather than a collective right that belongs to state militias. When the Supreme Court upheld the concept of an individual right, it tossed out the District of Columbia’s gun ban.
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