US President Barack Obama’s proposals to curb gun violence face a difficult path through a sharply divided US Congress, where the biggest gun control fight in decades looms on an issue that has long been one of the most divisive in US politics.
Obama’s plan sets up a showdown between a gun control movement re-energized by the massacre of 20 children and six adults last month at a Connecticut school, and a powerful gun rights lobby led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has blocked new action on gun control for almost two decades.
Members of both parties said Obama’s call for expanded background checks for all gun buyers had the best chance of surviving the partisan fight in Congress. Just as clear is that Obama’s pitch for Congress to reinstate the ban on military-style assault weapons that expired nearly a decade ago is unlikely to go anywhere.
The odds for a third Obama proposal, to limit ammunition clips to 10 rounds, seem to fall somewhere in between, lawmakers and analysts said on Wednesday.
“If you look at the combination of likelihood of passage and effectiveness of curbing gun crime, universal background checks is at the sweet spot,” said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, a heavily Democratic state where newly enacted gun laws for background checks and ammunition limits mirror several of Obama’s federal proposals.
For the Democratic president, the obstacles in Congress are large. In the Republican-led US House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner faces pressure from conservatives to resist even bringing a gun control bill to the floor.
UP TO THE SENATE?
That is why the gun legislation is almost certain to rise from the Democratic-led Senate. Even there, overcoming procedural hurdles will require supporters of Obama’s plan to win over several Republicans while gaining backing from a few Democrats who have supported gun rights and face re-election next year in conservative states.
Democratic senators Tim Johnson in South Dakota, Max Baucus in Montana, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Mark Begich in Alaska and Mark Pryor in Arkansas are from conservative states with high levels of gun ownership, and all face re-election next year.
Begich, for one, has expressed reservations about a new ban on assault weapons.
The political calculus is such that Obama’s plan “is not just dead in the House, it is on life support in the Senate before it even arrives,” former Capitol Hill aide and Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said.
However, Democratic strategist Phil Singer, also a former Hill aide, said there was a chance that public pressure stemming from outrage over the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings could force Republican leaders to reconsider their opposition to at least some of the measures — or risk being painted as unreasonable and beholden to the gun lobby.
“It will be very difficult and it will require a tremendous amount of work, but I think that there is a decent chance that it could happen,” Singer said. “At this point, it is irresponsible to rule out getting it done. The process has only just begun. I think there is a path forward.”
LEAHY PROMISES ACTION
Some analysts were skeptical that anything could be accomplished in Congress, which faces a crush of other legislative priorities, including a looming battle over the budget and raising the US borrowing limit.