POLITICS: White House

Obama more bullish on background checks than weapons ban

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Photo - WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 1: President Barack Obama speaks before awarding the National Medals of Science and the National Medals of Technology and Innovation in a ceremony at the White House on February 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 1: President Barack Obama speaks before awarding the National Medals of Science and the National Medals of Technology and Innovation in a ceremony at the White House on February 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest,Gun Control

Taking his push for gun control on the road Monday, President Obama confidently predicted that Congress would approve universal background checks for gun buyers but tempered expectations for a ban on assault weapons.

Obama's remarks to a cadre of law enforcement leaders in Minneapolis crystallized the battle lines in the contentious debate over how to reduce gun violence in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Facing long odds for either an assault weapons ban or a prohibition on high-capacity ammunition clips, Obama pushed hardest for expanded background checks, calling the proposal "universally supported."

"We don't have to agree on everything to agree it's time to do something," Obama said. "We are starting to see a consensus emerge about the action Congress needs to take. The vast majority of Americans -- including a majority of gun owners -- support requiring criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun."

The president was less adamant about a ban on assault weapons, underscoring widespread pessimism about the chances of renewing a law that expired in 2004. Obama said only that the recommendation deserves a vote in Congress.

Gun-control advocates were split on whether a successful push for universal background checks -- and not the other two components of Obama's legislative focus -- would constitute a victory for the White House.

"People need to be realistic about this," said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "If we reach a point where we're requiring universal background checks, that'd be a tremendous accomplishment. We're not going to repair everything in a month or two."

But another gun-control proponent who has met multiple times with administration officials voiced frustration over the limited prospects for new gun restrictions.

"I'm not naive; I understand the challenges in Congress," he said. "But if we can't get an assault weapons ban after a tragedy like Newtown, you have to wonder if we ever will."

The White House is fully aware of the tough road ahead for its ambitious set of gun proposals. Some said the president's remarks were more about undermining his opponents than broadening support for gun control.

"This is an attempt to marginalize people who the president views as unreasonable, to say people who don't want to do everything they can to save just one life are out of touch," Republican strategist Patrick Griffin said. "The problem for the president on this issue is that it's not just Republicans who oppose his approach."

In recent days even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declined to endorse the president's call for an assault weapon ban. Obama will need to win over Democratic senators from gun-friendly states, like Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who was in the audience for the president's speech and is backing both the expanded background checks and an assault weapon ban.

Monday marked Obama's first campaign-style road trip on behalf of his gun control recommendations. Just last week, he went to Las Vegas to gain public backing for immigration reform, employing a tactic that analysts note Obama is likely to continue in coming weeks and months.

"He has to use his campaign apparatus for the remainder of his presidency to get people on his side," Democratic strategist Christopher Hahn said. "He missed opportunities to do that in his first term. He won't make the same mistake again."

Sensitive to any distractions from Obama's push for new gun laws, the White House over the weekend released a photo of the president skeet shooting at Camp David. Some had questioned whether the president, born and raised in Hawaii before settling down in urban Chicago, had ever fired a gun.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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