Obama Seeks to Strengthen Gun Background Check System

Posted March 13, 2011 at 1:53pm

Two months after a shooting rampage in Arizona gravely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people, President Barack Obama laid out a three-point gun-control plan in an opinion piece Sunday to “keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.”

The president called for better enforcement of existing laws, such as those strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; rewarding the states that provide the best background data; and making the background check system “faster and nimbler.”

Obama sought to reassure gun-rights advocates in the opinion piece, which appeared Sunday in the Arizona Daily Star.

“Now, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms,” Obama wrote. “And the courts have settled that as the law of the land. … The fact is, almost all gun owners in America are highly responsible. They’re our friends and neighbors. They buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for hunting or target shooting, collection or protection. And that’s something that gun-safety advocates need to accept.”

At the same time, he indicated that further actions could be taken. “Clearly, there’s more we can do to prevent gun violence. But I want this to at least be the beginning of a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people,” he wrote.

Obama urged the nation to overcome the divisiveness of the issue. “I know some aren’t interested in participating,” he added. “Some will say that anything short of the most sweeping anti-gun legislation is a capitulation to the gun lobby. Others will predictably cast any discussion as the opening salvo in a wild-eyed scheme to take away everybody’s guns. And such hyperbole will become the fodder for overheated fundraising letters.

“But I have more faith in the American people than that. Most gun-control advocates know that most gun owners are responsible citizens. Most gun owners know that the word ‘commonsense’ isn’t a code word for ‘confiscation.’ And none of us should be willing to remain passive in the face of violence or resigned to watching helplessly as another rampage unfolds on television.”

Doctors treating Giffords in Houston reported last week that the Arizona Democrat has made “tremendous progress” in her recovery. Since she was shot in the head during a district event in Tucson, she has improved her speech, can carry on conversations and “is starting to string words together,” Dr. Dong Kim said Friday. She is also able to breathe on her own and walk with assistance.

“But one clear and terrible fact remains” from that day, Obama wrote. “A man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun.”

Suspect Jared Loughner pleaded not guilty last week to 49 additional federal charges stemming from the shooting. He had previously pleaded not guilty to charges of trying to assassinate Giffords and attempting to murder two of her aides.

The Army rejected Loughner for failing a drug test, and Pima Community College banned him from campus after he exhibited unstable behavior, but he was able to legally purchase a semi-automatic pistol that authorities say he used in the attack.