Obama demands gun curbs, laments gun rights in Navy Yard shooting speech

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama is using the Sept. 16 Navy Yard shootings to rally his supporters for another uphill charge in November 2014 against Americans’ gun rights.

“These [12] families have endured a shattering tragedy,” Obama said in a very sharply written speech during a memorial service held near D.C.‘s Navy Yard for the victims’ families Sunday.

The recent rash of mass shootings “ought to be a shock to us all as a nation and as a people. …It ought to lead to some sort of transformation,” said the president, evoking his 2008 promise to begin “fundamentally transforming” the United States of America.

“If we really want to be a country where we can go to work, and go to school, and walk our streets free from senseless violence … then we’re going to have to change.  We’re going to have to change,” declared Obama, who describes himself as a progressive.

This focus on guns is a high-risk political strategy, especially for Democratic senators facing reelection in November 2014. Outside cities, curbs on guns are very unpopular, in part, because Americans use their guns to protect themselves without calling for help from distant police stations.

In April, several Democratic senators joined with Republicans to defeat a gun-control measure pushed by Obama.

After the measure failed, Obama angrily denounced his supporters, saying “to change Washington, you, the American people will have to sustain some passion about this, and when necessary, you have to send the right people to Washington.”

That anger came out again Saturday, when Obama used a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to rail against GOP supporters of gun-rights.

“As long as there are those who fight to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun, then we’ve got to work as hard as possible for the sake of our children,” he said.

But Obama may be using that anger to spur 2014 turnout among swing-voting suburbanites and African Americans, whose support for Obama has sagged amid the lousy economy.

A high turnout could give Obama a majority in the House, and allow him to pass transformational laws on immigration, gun-control, taxation and voting rules, and to bolster his Obamacare network.

In his Navy Yard comments, Obama indicated his approval of gun-control regimes in Australia and the United Kingdom, which were imposed after shootings in 1996.

“They endured great heartbreak, but they also mobilized and they changed, and mass shootings became a great rarity,” Obama declared.

In Australia, after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre of 35 people, the government imposed tough new gun-control laws, and largely banned semi-automatic guns.

The 1996 massacre of sixteen children and one adult in Dunblane, Scotland also prompted a government crackdown that largely banned private ownership of handguns.

But the United States is exceptional, partly because the Constitution establishes a personal right to own and carry weapons.

Obama indicated his opposition to the Constitution’s curbs on government power.

“What’s different in America is it’s easy to get your hands on gun — and a lot of us know this. …The politics are difficult,” he lamented.

“I cannot accept that,” said Obama, whose inauguration oath required him to swear that he would uphold the Constitution and laws.

Obama suggested that better security and expanded mental-health services might avert some shootings.

But he said the main need is some means to “take the basic, common-sense actions to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people.”

“The change we need will not come from Washington. …Change will come the only way it ever has come, and that’s from the American people,” he declared, bolstering the suggestion he plans to use the gun issue to spur Democratic turnout in the 2014 elections.

“So the question now is not whether, as Americans, we care in moments of tragedy. …But the question is, do we care enough?” he declared, presaging an anti-gun campaign over the next 14 months leading up to the November 2014 midterm elections.

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Neil Munro