Despite getting limited support from an unlikely source, President Barack Obama’s gun control measures face a tough road ahead.
On Thursday, National Rifle Association (NRA) President David Keene said his organization would support expanding background checks for gun buyers, part of the president’s plan announced Wednesday, to curb gun violence. But Keene did not specify whether the nation’s largest and most influential gun rights lobby group supported Obama’s executive order tightening background checks or proposed legislation to make background checks mandatory for all gun purchases.
The NRA has vowed to fight the president’s other proposals to Congress, including a ban on military-style assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Members of the Republican-majority House of Representatives also oppose the president’s legislative plan, all but guaranteeing its failure. The president faces quieter opposition in the Senate, where moderate Democrats have not shown enthusiastic support.
“I will look closely at all proposals on the table, but we must use common sense and respect our Constitution,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. Tester recently said he supports background checks but doesn’t think an assault weapons ban would have stopped the mass shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman in December killed 20 first graders and six adults before turning the gun on himself.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a gun rights backer who’s enjoyed NRA support in the past, responded cautiously, saying he was committed to ensuring the Senate considers legislation on gun violence early this year. He did not endorse any of Obama’s proposals.
The Senate is expected to start discussing the president’s plan when it returns from recess next week. House leaders said Wednesday they would wait on the Senate to act before taking up the legislation.
But many rank-and-file Republicans already have voiced opposition to the measures.
“The right to bear arms is a right, despite President Obama’s disdain for the Second Amendment,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.
Supporters of the proposed legislation point to recent surveys that say six-in-10 Americans want stricter gun regulations. But opponents are vocal and organized and include many of those tasked with enforcing the law.
“A lot of sheriffs are now standing up and saying, ‘Follow the Constitution,’” said Sheriff Gil Gilbertson of Josephine County, Ore., whose jurisdiction covers the timbered mountains in the southwestern part of the state.
Some law enforcement officials have even vowed not to uphold any of the 23 executive orders the president signed Wednesday, a defiance echoed by lawmakers in states where gun rights hold sway.
In Mississippi, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant urged the state legislature to make it illegal to enforce any executive order by the president that violates the Constitution.
“If someone kicks open my door and they’re entering my home, I’d like as many bullets as I could to protect my children, and if I only have three, then the ability for me to protect my family is greatly diminished,” Bryant said. “And what we’re doing now is saying, ‘We’re standing against the federal government taking away our civil liberties.’”
In Tennessee, Republican state Rep. Joe Carr wants to make it a state crime for federal agents to enforce any ban on firearms or ammunition. Carr instead called for more armed guards at schools, a proposal made by the NRA a week after the Newtown shootings. Part of the president’s $500 million package of executive orders includes funding for 1,000 additional school police officers.
“We’re tired of political antics, cheap props of using children as bait to gin up emotional attachment for an issue that quite honestly doesn’t solve the problem,” Carr said.