Obama makes last-ditch effort as gun control bill teeters in Senate

HARTFORD — President Obama made a last-ditch effort Monday to build support for a Senate gun control bill by addressing a Connecticut audience that included relatives of the 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School children killed late last year by a lone gunman.

“This isn’t about me,” Obama told the audience at the University of Hartford. “And it shouldn’t be about politics. This is about doing the right thing for families like yours that have been torn apart by gun violence, and families going forward.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Even as Obama spoke, his hopes for a massive overhaul of gun control laws appeared to be falling to the side, with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) promising to block legislation that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to bring to the Senate floor.

McConnell and Republicans oppose the centerpiece of Reid’s legislation and Obama’s gun control agenda: an expansion of background checks, which Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ political guru, called the “sweet spot” of any gun control bill.

Republicans fear the record-keeping requirements in the bill would impose onerous burdens on gun owners and could lead to a national firearms registry.

“Sen. McConnell opposes the Reid bill (S. 649),” said Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman. “While nobody knows yet what Sen. Reid’s plan is for the gun bill, if he chooses to file cloture on the motion to proceed to the Reid bill, Sen. McConnell will oppose cloture on proceeding to that bill.”

The background check language in Reid’s bill was considered a placeholder to give Schumer more time to get a deal. So far, he has been unable to broker one.

The White House and Obama on Monday repeatedly urged the Senate to not filibuster Reid’s bill.

“What’s more important to you: our children or an A Grade from the gun lobby?” Obama, wearing a green bracelet to honor the Sandy Hook victims, said in his speech.

He called the day of the Newtown killings the “toughest day of my presidency,” before adding: “If we don’t respond to this, that will be a tough day, too.”

Obama’s hopes for a new ban on semi-automatic “assault” weapons and high-capacity magazines have already fallen to the side, leaving expanded background checks as his highest priority.

But Schumer’s talks with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) foundered last month, and he and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have been unable to win over new allies so far.

McConnell, it appeared Monday, does not want to let Reid bring the gun bill to the floor until he knows there’s a bipartisan deal on background checks.

Manchin has been courting Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association but faces reelection in Pennsylvania in 2016.

A person familiar with the talks said Manchin and Toomey are discussing an expansion of background checks to cover all sales between private individuals that occur at gun shows or through other commercial venues, such as ArmsList.com.

The proposed compromise would require record-keeping to prove background checks occurred in connection with these transactions. Transactions between friends or family without the help of a commercial intermediary would be exempted, said the source.

Coburn, meanwhile, is pushing a proposal to expand background checks that would not require records to prove they took place, according to the source.

Without an agreement on background checks, Reid will have a very difficult time rounding up the 60 votes he needs to start the floor debate.

Obama’s speech in Hartford is the beginning of a final push by the president to goad the Senate into allowing votes on gun control.

Obama accused some of using “political stunts” to prevent a vote on gun control legislation.

“Think about that,” he said. “They’re not just saying they’ll vote ‘no’ on ideas that almost all Americans support. They’re saying they won’t allow any votes on them at all. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.”

“We want a vote!” We want a vote!” the crowd chanted, which the president then repeated back.

“This is not about politics!” he said twice, as the crowd stood and applauded. Passing legislation, he said, “shouldn’t be a heavy lift.”

Vice President Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder will speak at the White House on gun control on Tuesday, and first lady Michelle Obama will make a rare entry into the debate with a speech Wednesday in Chicago, the city with some of the worst gun violence in the country.

Relatives of the Newtown victims will also be active. Nearly a dozen traveled back with Obama on Air Force One to lobby members of Congress this week.

Obama highlighted the laws passed by Connecticut’s General Assembly last week, which ban more than 100 assault weapons and magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets. The stiffer laws also require universal background checks and would set up a registry for assault weapons and magazines.

Reid on Monday urged Republicans not to filibuster a motion to begin considering the bill.

“Let us have a debate on violence in America,” Reid said Monday. “Many Senate Republicans seem afraid to even engage in this debate — shame on them.

“The least Republicans owe the parents of 20 children murdered with guns at Sandy Hook Elementary is a thoughtful debate about whether stronger gun laws could have saved their little babies. The least Republicans owe them is a vote,” he said.