Two months after the January 2011 Tucson shooting, President Obama put into writing the same pledge he made last night in Newtown, Conn. “We have a responsibility to do everything we can to put a stop to” tragedies from gun violence, he said in an op-ed in the Arizona Star.
But in the next sentence, Obama adds this caveat, shedding light on his approach to guns:
“Like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms,” he wrote. “And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners — it has expanded them.”
In his first month in office, Obama overturned a 20-year ban on loaded guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. Licensed gun owners from any state can now carry concealed, loaded weapons on federal land.
Ten months later, as part of an omnibus spending bill, Obama reversed a decade-long ban on transporting firearms by train. Amtrak travelers can now carry unloaded, locked weapons in their checked baggage.
These actions, and others, are what earned Obama an “F” from the Brady Center for Gun Violence in 2010 for “extraordinary silence and passivity” on gun control. But Obama saw the moves differently.
“The fact is, almost all gun owners in America are highly responsible,” Obama wrote in the Star. “They’re our friends and neighbors. They buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for hunting or target shooting, collection or protection. And that’s something that gun-safety advocates need to accept.”
This outlook offers insight into how the administration will approach what Obama described as the need for “meaningful action” in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre last week.
As president, Obama has always emphasized the need to keep guns out of the wrong hands, rather than restrict the availability of guns or gun parts themselves. In his few public comments on the issue as president, Obama has called for enforcement of existing laws and improvements to the national background check system.
The background check system “hasn’t been properly implemented. It relies on data supplied by states – but that data is often incomplete and inadequate,” Obama wrote in his March 2011 op-ed. “We should in fact reward the states that provide the best data – and therefore do the most to protect our citizens… we should make the system faster and nimbler.
“We should provide an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can’t escape it,” he wrote.
Experts say that beefing up the system — and improving its ability to catch mental illness among potential gun buyers — is something that Obama could do right away via executive order. One proposal includes directing more state or federal agencies with knowledge of a person’s mental competency or drug use to funnel that information into one, central background check system.
Other gun control proposals that Obama has endorsed, such as requiring background checks for gun sales at trade shows or banning the sale of assault weapons, would require Congressional approval. In spite of six major shootings on his watch, Obama has not publicly pushed for a renewal of an assault weapons ban or new restrictions on high-capacity magazines.