President Obama’s gun-control recommendations have created a lobbying free-for-all on Capitol Hill.
Groups not typically associated with the debate over gun rights have taken a strong interest in the proposals that the White House put forward. Civil rights activists, mayors, psychiatrists, scientists and teachers are among those who plan to dispatch lobbyists to try and shape the debate.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the gun-control bill outlined by the president would touch so many areas of policy that it simply can’t be ignored.
“This is something we have to keep our eyes on. If it was a straight assault-weapons ban, [then] maybe not. But this is so many things wrapped into one proposal,” said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington office.
The ACLU is specifically concerned about an increased police presence in schools. Obama’s plan would provide $150 million for a new program that would allow schools and law enforcement agencies to hire more counselors, social workers and police officers for schools.
“We are finding all over the country that it is more likely that minority kids as well as kids with disabilities will be arrested for things that are usually handled by school administrators,” Murphy said. “They are getting criminal records, which then contributes to the unemployment rate.”
In addition to lobbying lawmakers, Murphy said ACLU staff would be meeting with White House aides next week to discuss the security plan.
The NAACP Legal and Educational Fund is similarly critical of the security initiative. Leslie Proll, director of the group’s Washington office, said more cops in schools would not reduce gun violence.
“What we are going to try to do on the Hill is to steer legislators away from the idea that an increased police presence in schools is an effective remedy to reducing gun violence,” Proll said.
But the Fraternal Order of Police has a different view. The 325,000-member police union will support more federal funding for police officers and will lobby for expanding background checks for gun sales. The police association will also support more funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
“Unless you have an [ATF] fully functional and funded, it doesn’t matter what laws you have because there will be no one to enforce them. Let’s get them to the point that they can enforce what’s on the books today before anything else,” said Jim Pasco, the police union’s executive director.
Members of the Fraternal Order of Police will fly to Washington at the end of February to lobby lawmakers on the proposals, Pasco said.
“We will brief them, provide them with talking points, the whole nine yards,” Pasco said.
The police union has yet to take a position on the proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, according to Pasco.
Other aspects of Obama’s plan enjoy strong support. The Union of Concerned Scientists praised the president’s executive order directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence and is urging Congress to follow suit.
“Ideally, Congress should be working to amplify that message that research on guns should be done,” said Celia Wexler, senior Washington representative for the group. “We want to engage our members in the public health sphere and want them to talk about this. We want to make sure the importance of research about gun violence is part of the conversation moving forward.”
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) supports the president’s move to finalize regulations ensuring parity between mental and physical health coverage. In a statement last week, Dilip Jeste, APA’s president, said the group “intends to play an active role during congressional discussions about the president’s proposed policies, particularly as they impact access to psychiatric treatment.”
Obama also has backing from some of his union allies in the gun-control fight.
The National Education Association (NEA) has emailed members in support of the president’s proposal and hosted a meeting in Washington last week for a coalition of groups that want action on gun violence. The 3 million-member union is planning to fly NEA members to Washington for a lobbying blitz to talk gun control and other issues during the first week of February.
Kim Anderson, director of NEA’s Center for Advocacy and Outreach, said the education union might sponsor television ads on gun control as well.
“We certainly hope that members of Congress understand that they need to act swiftly,” Anderson said. “Classrooms all across the country are talking about this issue.”
But perhaps the heaviest lobbying of all will come on the president’s proposals on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which are strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association.
The U.S. Conference on Mayors is vocally in favor of gun-control limits. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, president of the group, has been making the rounds to talk to lawmakers.
“This is a big issue for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. We will take it up and you will hear from us in the future,” Nutter said. “Public safety is one of the critical elements for all of us as mayors. You can’t have a great city if people don’t feel safe.”