MINNEAPOLIS – With police officers and troopers in uniform gathered behind him, President Barack Obama on Monday pitched his proposals to curtail gun violence with an appeal for “common sense” and bipartisanship, even as he downplayed the prospects for key parts of his plan.
Speaking to law enforcement officials at a Minneapolis police facility, Obama said he saw a consensus emerging in Congress to require background checks of all gun buyers, one of three core proposals in the plan he announced after the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December.
Eliminating loopholes that allow sales without such checks at gun shows or by private dealers has broad public support, Obama said.
“There’s no reason why we can’t get that done. That is not a liberal idea or a conservative idea. It’s not a Democratic or Republican idea. That is a smart idea,” he said.
But the president was not as upbeat about two other elements of his proposal – reinstating bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Rather than calling for their passage, Obama merely said they deserve “a vote in Congress.”
Obama’s emphasis was a telling reflection of where the gun debate has gone in seven weeks since an assailant killed 20 first-graders and six adults in the Connecticut school. While Democrats in Congress have pressed the assault-weapon and ammunition bans – previous versions of which expired in 2004 – most Republicans remain firmly opposed.
An expansion of the background check system, which reviews records to ensure that guns are not sold to felons and people who are mentally unstable, is increasingly seen as a likely step.
Legislation in the Democrat-controlled Senate is likely to focus on universal background checks. Four senators – Republicans Mark Steven Kirk, Ill., and Tom Coburn, Okla.; and Democrats Joe Manchin III, W.Va., and Charles E. Schumer, N.Y. – are drafting a bill.
In the Republican-led House, any gun legislation will face serious obstacles. But notably, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the party’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, has indicated he is open to strengthening the background check system. House leaders have otherwise avoided discussing the issue in detail.
The shifting momentum was visible this weekend when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a longtime backer of gun rights, said he was likely to support the measure. Tellingly, he said only that he would take a “look” at the assault-weapon and high-capacity magazine bans.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden continue to push for an assault-weapon ban. “Our law enforcement officers should never be outgunned on the streets,” Obama said Monday.