Gun control advocates are urging the White House to embrace stricter gun laws in the wake of the shooting in Tucson, calling for President Obama to talk about the issue in next week’s State of the Union address.
Democrats, including Obama, have largely avoided the issue for years, believing it turns off swing voters in the Midwest and South. But after the shooting, several members of Congress, as well as liberal-leaning groups, have publicly said Obama should back legislation such as a bill proposed by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) to bar the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, such as the one used in the shooting.
Advocates have seized on comments by former Vice President Richard B. Cheney who said in an recent interview with NBC News “maybe it’s appropriate” to limit magazine size.
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the group wanted Obama to support specific legislation, but it would be satisfied if the president appointed a presidential commission to look at the causes of gun violence if a bill is not possible.
“A national tragedy took place, there should be a response,” Helmke said. In Tucson, he added, “no laws were broken until he started shooting.”
White House officials have been noncommittal on the issue. Obama has not spoken specifically about gun control since the shooting, while White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has sidestepped questions at his press briefings about the administration’s positions on the various proposals by gun control groups.
Pressed on the issue Thursday, Gibbs said, “I think we’re looking through different proposals.”
Obama, as Politico wrote this week, “has supported most major gun and ammunition control initiatives during a decade and a half in public life, including renewing the expired ban on semiautomatic assault rifles.” But, the article added, “he talks about the issue using muted, nonconfrontational tones engineered to avoid alienating gun-friendly voters.”
Democrats avoid talking about guns so often that Helmke acknowledged he would have to rely on others to lobby the White House on the issue: The administration does not have a staffer who regularly speaks on gun control rights, as it does on labor or environmental issues.
Republicans and powerful groups such as the National Rifle Association have not endorsed further gun control measures in the wake of the shooting. And neither have Americans overall. A Pew poll released this week showed no almost no increase in public support for additional gun control measures.
The president will speak at a General Electric plant in Schenectady, N.Y., where the company was founded. The plant there specializes in the use of alternative energy, which Obama will tout.
He will tour the plant with chief executive Jeffrey Immelt, whom Obama named early Friday to lead the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, a new economic advisory council focused on job creation and competitiveness. The council is replacing the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which Obama created two years ago to help guide the administration’s response to the recession.
Obama later will appear at a House Democratic retreat in Cambridge, Md.