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As Navy Yard families mourn, Obama pushes gun control
Little interest to revive issue on Capitol Hill
On the same day that lawmakers acknowledged that any attempt to crack down on firearms stands virtually no chance on Capitol Hill, President Obama made his strongest plea to date on the need to confront gun violence.
Speaking at a memorial service for the 12 victims of last week's massacre at the Washington Navy Yard, Mr. Obama again played the role of comforter-in-chief, a duty he has assumed many times during his presidency.
This time, he said, weeping and sharing in grief should not satisfy anyone.
"Our tears are not enough. Our words are not enough. And our prayers are not enough. If we really want to honor these 12 men and women ... we're going to have to change. We're going to have to change," a somber Mr. Obama said. "We don't do enough. We don't take the basic, common-sense actions to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people. What is different in America is it's easy to get your hands on a gun, and a lot of us know this."
What Mr. Obama also knows, as he reiterated Sunday, is that "the politics are difficult."
Just hours before the president spoke at the Navy Yard, there were reminders how tough a climb any gun control effort would be.
Key lawmakers on Capitol Hill say the effort is, for all intents and purposes, dead.
Gun rights groups also vowed to continue fighting any such measure, leaving little to no chance in the immediate future that Congress will take real action on firearms.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat and co-author of a background-checks bill that failed in his chamber in April, said Sunday that he is not willing to resurrect the bill only to see it go down in flames again.
"I'm not going to go out there and beat the drum for the sake of beating the drum. There has to be people willing to move off the position they've taken," Mr. Manchin said during an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Mr. Manchin's measure, co-authored by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, was defeated in April by a vote of 54-46. By Mr. Manchin's own admission, there are no signs it would do any better a second time around.
Although the April vote tabled the gun control issue, the massacre at the Navy Yard — where gunman Aaron Alexis inflicted mass carnage before he was shot and killed — has thrust the issue into the national spotlight again.
In the hours after the shooting rampage, gun control crusaders such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said Congress must act.
After avoiding the gun control issue in the days after the Navy Yard incident, President Obama jumped headfirst into the debate Saturday night.
Speaking to a friendly audience at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual dinner in Washington, Mr. Obama said previous failures are no excuse to stop trying.
He ramped up his rhetoric Sunday, essentially calling the U.S. a Third World nation when it comes to gun violence.
"It ought to lead to some sort of transformation. That's what happened in other countries when they experienced tragedies," Mr. Obama said. "Yet here in the United States, after the round-the-clock coverage on cable news, after the heartbreaking interviews with families, after all the speeches and all the punditry and all the commentary — nothing changes."
Mr. Obama's remarks were aimed indirectly at gun rights advocates in Congress and powerful interest groups such as the National Rifle Association, which lobbied against the Toomey-Manchin bill and spearheaded a recent effort to oust from office two Colorado state lawmakers who backed firearms restrictions.
The NRA certainly will oppose any other federal efforts against guns, but the organization's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said Sunday that lawmakers should address the issue of security at military installations — including allowing trained military personnel to carry weapons in their workplaces.
"We need to look at letting the men and women that know firearms and are trained in them do what they do best, which is protect and survive," he said.
Mr. LaPierre said steps must be taken to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining weapons. Alexis told police just days before the Navy Yard shootings that he heard voices through his ceiling and walls.
"They need to be committed is what they need to be, and if they're committed, they're not at the Navy Yard," he said. "The Aurora shooter in Colorado gets checked and is cleared, the Tucson shooter gets checked and gets cleared, Aaron Alexis goes through the federal and state check and gets cleared."
Among lawmakers, attention has begun to turn away from gun restrictions and to fixes to the nation's mental health system. The ultimate goal of such efforts would be to ensure that people with mental illness aren't able to buy or otherwise obtain guns.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and others in his party have expressed openness to refocusing their efforts on the mental health side of the equation. Such an approach likely would find at least some bipartisan support because many Republicans also believe the Navy Yard massacre resulted in part from a failure of mental health checks, not lenient gun laws.
"A complete mental status exam should've been carried out. We would've seen some of these problems" with Alexis, said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and a physician. "We have to make it where the health care professionals in this country, when they see somebody who is having symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia, that they can act on that by notifying the 'do not sell' list so that people can't buy a gun."
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Ben Wolfgang covers the White House for The Washington Times.
Before joining the Times in March 2011, Ben spent four years as a political reporter at the Republican-Herald in Pottsville, Pa.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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