At a press conference Monday, President Obama signaled his administration is ready to take on the gun rights lobby after Newtown, even if that means raising topics the National Rifle Association has rejected.
Despite reports earlier in the week that Vice President Biden’s gun violence task force was preparing to back down from a so-called assault weapons ban — which the NRA says it can kill in the House — Obama specifically name-checked support for a ban, setting up a legislative battle over the most contentious issues in the modern gun control debate.
He acknowledged it could be an uphill slog.
“Will all of them get through this Congress? I do not know,” Obama said. “What is uppermost in my mind is making sure I am honest with the American people and members of Congress about what I think will work, what I think is something that will make a difference, and to repeat what I said earlier. If there is a step we can take that will save even one child from what happened in Newtown, should take that step.”
For Obama, “what I think will work” has long included a renewal of the assault weapons ban. The White House pushed back hard on a New York Times report last week that such a ban was being dropped from the political agenda due to the difficulty it will have passing Congress. Obama on Monday to his support for the ban, specifically talking about it alongside tougher background checks and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines, statements unlikely to calm frayed nerves among the gun rights community.
The president specifically addressed that community, as well as the fear of government seizure of firearms it often uses to rally supporters. Obama noted that the strategy has been a smart one, though he accused gun groups that utilize it of practicing in cynicism.
“I think that we’ve seen for some time now that those who oppose any common sense gun control or gun safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners, that somehow the federal government’s about to take all your guns away,” Obama said. “And there’s probably an economic element to that. It obviously is good for business.”
Obama told gun owners not to worry.
“The issue here is not whether or not we believe in the Second Amendment,” Obama said. “The issue is, are there some sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can’t walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a shockingly rapid fashion. And surely, we can do something about that.”
What exactly the White House will propose in the wake of Newtown will be unveiled later this week. Gun control groups have already set expanded background checks as their priority and have said they’ll give Obama cover if an assault weapons ban goes down in a divided Congress.
Though he acknowledged the tough politics ahead as the gun violence debate shifts to Congress, Obama said he’s ready to embrace positions that could be divisive.
“My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works,” Obama said. “What should we be doing to make sure that our children are safe, that we are reducing the incidence of gun violence? I think we can do that in a sensible way that comports with the Second Amendment.”