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Obama Calls On Congress To Act To Reduce Gun Violence


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama says he's done what he could on his own. Yesterday he signed 23 executive orders related to gun control. They will allow federal agencies to strengthen the existing background check system and improve the tracking of stolen guns. The big ticket items, like universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high capacity clips, will need congressional action.

As NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports, getting gun control legislation through Congress will be hard work.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Mr. Obama's proposals are the first major gun control initiatives since the 1994 crime bill. Vice President Joe Biden, who drove that bill through the Senate 19 years ago, said this year's effort will be no easier.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I have no illusions about what we're up against, what we're up against or how hard the task is in front of us. But I also have never seen the nation's conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook. The world has changed, and it's demanding action.

LIASSON: Sending legislation to the Hill and mounting a sustained fight to pass it are two very different things. But yesterday, in remarks that were both passionate and deliberate, President Obama said he intended to use whatever weight his office holds.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will put everything I've got into this, and so will Joe. But I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it. And by the way, that doesn't just mean from certain parts of the country. We're going to need voices in those areas, in those congressional districts, where the tradition of gun ownership is strong to speak up and to say this is important.

LIASSON: The president never mentioned the National Rifle Association by name, but he called on gun owners - many of whom are NRA members - to help change minds in Congress.

OBAMA: Ask your member of Congress if they support universal background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Ask them if they support renewing a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And if they say no, ask them why not. Ask them what's more important - doing whatever it takes to get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?


LIASSON: In the end, the biggest obstacle to Mr. Obama's gun violence bills might be Republican opposition, but right now the biggest hurdle is a lack of enthusiasm on the part of his own Democrats. Asked for his reaction to the president's proposals, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said he would wait to see what the Senate - and its Democratic leader, Harry Reid, does first.

JOHN FEEHERY: The number one impediment to actual action on gun control has been Harry Reid.

LIASSON: John Feehery is a former House Republican leadership aide.

FEEHERY: He actually was able to win his election because he had the endorsement of the NRA. And Harry Reid also has a pretty good sense of how these things play politically, and my guess is he's going to be very cautious.

LIASSON: Reid has said he isn't inclined to schedule votes on proposals - like an assault weapons ban - that have little chance of passing the House. And that's one reason, says Feehery, House Republicans are not feeling much pressure to act.

FEEHERY: They do not want to walk the plank on something like this until they have to; if they don't have to, even better. I think that for Republicans in the House this is a very difficult issue. Many Republicans represent very rural areas where gun control is a disaster, and so I think that for those House Republicans, waiting for the Senate is exactly the right strategy.

LIASSON: The White House is promising a campaign-style effort to move the gun bills. They will have the clout and resources of some new allies, including Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York City.

And public opinion, at least for now, seems to have shifted in favor of more gun restrictions - including universal background checks and a ban on high capacity magazines.

But that's national opinion, not always the kind of sentiment that matters the most to House Republicans worried about a primary challenge, or red state Senate Democrats facing a tough reelection.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.