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POLITICS: White House

Obama to push gun-control measures

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Politics,White House,Julie Mason
President Obama's decision to push new gun-control measures in the wake of the mass shootings in Tucson, Ariz., is out of character and faces dubious prospects with a new Republican majority in the House.

Though he omitted any reference to gun control in his State of the Union address, three of Obama's key advisers assured reporters the issue is on the president's to-do list.

"He's going to address this," senior adviser David Plouffe told NBC News. "It's a very important issue and I know there's going to be a lot of debate on the hill."

Added press secretary Robert Gibbs, "I wouldn't rule out that at some point the president talks about the issues surrounding gun violence. I don't have a timetable or, obviously, what he would say."

Obama's style is to raise contentious issues then defer follow-through, as he has done with immigration reform, or forge compromise, as he did with his Afghanistan war strategy, health care and more.

Whether the prospective push for new gun-control laws is a response to Tucson or reaction to criticism of the State of the Union is uncertain.

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod told political bloggers this week that the speech was written to focus more narrowly on the economy. He promised Obama will "engage" on the gun-control issue.

But in any case, it may be an engagement without the ring: Republican control of the House and Democrats' withered majority in the Senate make gun control a tough sell for at least the next two years.

"The anti-gun people I am sure would frame it as losing more rights," said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.

A safer political bet for Obama is to frame the debate in terms of the danger to law enforcement officers from a proliferation of guns, and to restrict any new lawmaking effort to assault weapons, she said.

A recent poll for ABC News by Langer Research Associates found no shift or surge in support for new gun laws following the Tucson mass shooting earlier this month.

The poll found 52 percent of Americans favor tougher-gun control laws, down from 61 percent in 2007. Forty-five percent oppose stricter gun laws.

Still, there is room to legislate. About 57 percent support banning the type of high-capacity ammunition clips used in the Tucson massacre, and 83 percent support a registry to keep guns from the mentally ill or drug abusers, according to the poll.

Many Republicans and gun enthusiasts had worried that Obama would prove a tough adversary on gun control. But in 2009, he signed two bills that allowed concealed weapons in national parks and permitted passengers with guns on most Amtrak trains.

The administration last year looked at reinstating a ban on assault weapons, but never took action.

The National Rifle Association, which lobbied for the Amtrak and parks laws, could not be reached for comment. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has been critical of Obama's lack of leadership on the issue, did not respond to a request for comment.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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