President Obama on Wednesday cast expanded background checks — the core of a bill the Senate is set to begin debating next week — as a common-sense approach that would make gun violence less common.
“If you want to buy a gun ... you should at least have to show you're not a criminal,” he said in an address at the Denver Police Academy, where he stood before several dozen police officers. “That's just common sense."
Obama blasted the National Rifle Association (NRA) for opposing expanded background checks, which the group has said is the first step toward a national gun registry.
“We’re not proposing a gun registration system, we’re proposing background checks for criminals,” Obama said.
And he sought to poke holes in the notion that the government is looking to take away weapons belonging to gun owners.
“The opponents of some of these common-sense [gun] laws have ginned up fears among gun owners,” he said. But he urged gun owners to “get the facts.”
While public support is high for a proposal on universal background checks — recent polls show that as many as 88 percent support such a move — a key group of senators working on gun control legislation haven’t been able to reach an agreement on the plan.
Obama urged the American public to “find out where your members of Congress stand on these issues.”
The event marked the 12th speech or statement Obama has made on gun control since the Newtown, Conn. shootings that left 20 elementary school children dead and reinvigorated a debate on gun control.
Gun control supporters have expressed worry about the Senate bill.
Senate Republicans have been united against bans on military-style, semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, and many Democrats also expressed opposition to those bills.
Democrats representing states won by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also face a tough vote on what’s left of the package, something Obama acknowledged to the crowd.
“I'll be blunt, a lot of members of Congress, this is tough for them,” Obama said. “Because those who are opposed to any form of legislation affecting guns, they're very well-organized and they're very well-financed. But it can be done if enough voices are heard.”
Obama said there is “no conflict” between tougher gun-control measures and protecting the right to bear arms.
“I’ve gotten stacks of letters from proud gun owners, whether they’re for sport or protection or collection, who tell me how deeply they cherish their rights, and don’t want them infringed upon — but they still want us to do something to stop the epidemic of gun violence,” Obama said.
With the Aurora tragedy still fresh in the minds of those in the crowd, Obama added, “I don’t think weapons designed for war belong in movie theaters.”
“Every day that we wait to do something about it, even more of our fellow citizens are stolen from our lives,” he said.
Obama has been criticized in recent days for not acting on gun control quickly enough after the Connecticut massacre that left 20 children dead. And the White House has gone on the defensive, insisting that Obama, along with Vice President Biden, has appeared at a number of events to push legislation.
In the speech, Obama hailed the new laws in Colorado, which has strengthened background checks in the state.
“I think that Colorado has shown that practical progress is possible by enacting tougher background checks that won’t infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners, but will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” he said.
In the coming days, Obama is expected to keep his foot on the accelerator, touting his issue at a string of events, White House aides say. On Monday, he is set to appear in Connecticut, where he will once again push the legislation. And Biden will also help push the issue along, meeting with lawmakers and appearing at his own events, aides say.