Gun control to get State of the Union spotlight for first time in a decade

President Obama's vow Wednesday to include gun control in his State of the Union address marks the first time in more than a decade a president will highlight the issue in his agenda-setting speech.


Gun control was included in nearly every one of former President Clinton's State of the Union addresses in the ’90s, when major gun legislation was enacted. But the issue lost traction during President George W. Bush's administration.

Obama supports further regulation, such as a reinstatement of the 1994 assault-weapons ban. But the issue has never made it into the major January address.

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting that left 27 dead, Obama announced a task force headed by Vice President Biden that will give him specific proposals to reduce mass violence. Obama said he will announce those proposals in his address to Congress.

“I will be talking about them in my State of the Union, and we will be working with interested members of Congress to try to get something done,” he said at a press conference Wednesday.

The State of the Union is usually one of the president’s most important speeches of the year, in which he lays out his priorities and policy agenda.

Obama took criticism from the gun-control lobby for not addressing following an assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), which occurred just weeks before his 2011 speech.

The president touched on that shooting spree in his 2011 speech but focused on civil discourse rather than gun control.

“There's a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause,” Obama said at the time. “Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater, something more consequential than party or political preference.”

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence criticized the president, saying that he couldn’t bring up the tragedy without also addressing gun violence.

Following the speech that year, Obama campaign adviser David Plouffe reiterated the president’s support for an assault-weapons ban but said it would be addressed at a later date.

Clinton highlighted gun control throughout his tenure, signing a bill to require gun purchasers to go through background checks and enacting an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

He highlighted the topic in nearly every State of the Union address, mentioning guns 22 times in his final address in 2000.

Clinton called that year for trigger locks and closing a loophole that allows people to avoid background checks by purchasing weapons at gun shows.

“I also call on responsible leaders in the gun industry to work with us on smart guns and other steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands and keep our children safe,” Clinton said in 2000.

The closest George W. Bush came to addressing gun control was during his 2008 speech, when he invited a Virginia Tech graduate who had been shot in the massacre the year before to attend.