- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2012

The national debate over gun control may have been pushed to the back burner in favor of the “fiscal cliff” battle, but President Obama remains committed to confronting the issue no matter the resistance from gun owners and the National Rifle Association.

In a rare appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Mr. Obama expressed strong support for a reinstatement of the federal ban on assault weapons, outlawing high-capacity clips and a better system of background checks for those seeking to buy firearms.

He’s long supported those ideas, as have many Democrats, but the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has taken the conversation to new heights.

“That was the worst day of my presidency and it’s not something I want to see repeated,” Mr. Obama said of the massacre, which claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and seven adults, before the killer, Adam Lanza, shot himself.

The tragedy immediately ignited strong emotions from both sides of the gun debate. Democrats quickly clamored for stricter gun laws, citing Newtown as the last straw in a string of other mass killings including those in Aurora, Colo., and Oak Creek, Wis.

The NRA, a prime target of those seeking to limit gun rights, responded with its own plan to put armed security guards at every school in the United States. Several prominent Republicans, including Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, have suggested arming teachers as a last line of defense.

Mr. Obama, while not flatly rejecting those plans, does not appear open to them.

“I’m not going to prejudge the recommendations that are given to me,” Mr. Obama said. “I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools.”

Mr. Obama has commissioned a task force, led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, to study the issue of gun violence, mental health and related matters and make recommendations by next month.

Also next month, at the start of the new congressional session, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, has promised to reintroduce the assault weapons ban, which was in effect from 1994 to 2004. During that time, weapons such as the AR-15 — used by Lanza in Newtown — were outlawed.

The law, however, did not entirely prevent major tragedies. The 1999 Columbine killings took place in the middle of the assault weapons ban era.

That fact, along with the conviction that gun control does not make the nation safer, is leading many Republicans to oppose Ms. Feinstein’s plan.

“I own an AR-15. I have done nothing wrong by owning that gun,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I think the assault weapons ban didn’t work then, it’s not going to work now, and I will oppose it. It’s a false sense of security you’re pursuing here,” he told Ms. Feinstein, who appeared alongside him on Sunday morning.

But Ms. Feinstein is arguing that her bill will do more than just prevent future gun deaths. She and others believe that lax firearms control has harmed the reputation of the U.S. among its international peers, many of which impose much harsher limits on who can own guns and what types are sold.

“America has to bite the bullet of what these incidents mean to our people, to our nation and our nation’s standing in the world,” she said.

Mr. Obama and lawmakers who favor gun control acknowledge how difficult their efforts will be. Any significant measures likely will require the support of at least some Republicans. Backing from the NRA, which thus far has opposed any new limits on firearms, also would go a long way in spurring Republicans and the public to support new legislation.

“This is going to be a sustained conversation over time as people think about this,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking Sunday morning on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Conversations not just at the national level but conversations that engage people at the local level … it’s grass-roots up,” he said. “This could be a unifying conversation, and Lord knows we need to be unified.”

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