White House to work with both sides on gun control measure

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By Perry Bacon Jr.
Monday, March 14, 2011; 10:42 PM

The White House announced Monday that the administration is starting a series of sessions with leaders on both sides of the gun control issue to try to reach compromise on legislation to reduce gun violence.

White House Secretary Jay Carney did not announce which groups would be invited to the sessions this week, but he said the Justice Department is "meeting with stakeholders on all sides of the issue to look at ways we can find common ground." The meetings come after President Obama called Sunday for greater enforcement of gun control laws and better background checks since the January shooting in Tucson that killed six people and injured 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is expected to be involved in the discussions, but administration officials will also reach out to groups generally opposed to tighter gun restrictions such as the National Rifle Association, according to sources.

Carney did not say whether the effort would culminate with a specific measure endorsed by the Obama administration.

In an op-ed in Tucson's Arizona Daily Star newspaper, Obama called for an "instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks" and better record-keeping to "stop the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun."

Obama did not say in the op-ed whether his administration would offer legislation to address the problems or push the issue in Congress. Republican and conservative Democratic lawmakers have generally opposed tighter gun control measures.

"Porous background checks are bad for police officers, for law-abiding citizens and for the sellers themselves," Obama wrote. "If we're serious about keeping guns away from someone who's made up his mind to kill, then we can't allow a situation where a responsible seller denies him a weapon at one store, but he effortlessly buys the same gun someplace else."

Obama repeatedly referred to Jared Loughner, the alleged Tucson gunman, saying "a man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun." Loughner did not violate any gun laws in purchasing the weapon he is accused of using in the shooting.

Gun control advocates have been urging Obama to speak about the issue, and some were thrilled with his words. They had strongly criticized the president for not addressing gun control in his State of the Union address in January.

"This is the most significant statement any president has made on gun violence in over a decade," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

But it's not clear what exactly Obama will do now, or how hard he will push for more gun-control limits. His chosen avenue to highlight the issue, an op-ed in the Sunday edition of a small newspaper, could suggest a more limited approach. (On Monday he make will his third speech in two weeks on education reform.)

And he himself acknowledged the difficulty of the politics of gun control. Democrats, who once championed greater gun restrictions, have largely abandoned the issue in national campaigns for Senate and the presidency, worried that it turns off moderate voters in the South and the Midwest.

"I know that every time we try to talk about guns, it can reinforce stark divides," Obama wrote. "People shout at one another, which makes it impossible to listen. We mire ourselves in stalemate, which makes it impossible to get to where we need to go as a country."


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