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Obama's gun-control proposals: Will Republicans get on board?

President Obama's push for universal background checks appears to have broad support in Congress, but not his other gun-control priorities – including an assault-weapons ban.

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“President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida.

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Specifically, Republicans took aim at restrictions on assault weapons and potential new limits on magazines that hold the weapons' ammunition.

“Criminals aren’t going to follow legislation limiting magazine capacity. However, a limit could put law-abiding citizens at a distinct disadvantage when confronting a criminal,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina. “As for reinstating the assault-weapons ban, it has already been tried and failed.”

Many reacted negatively to Obama’s executive orders, saying the use of such powers shows the president is not acting in good faith.

“Instead of a thoughtful, open and deliberate conversation, President Obama is attempting to institute new restrictions on a fundamental constitutional right.... It’s the wrong way to unite people behind a proposal on such a powerful and emotional topic,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who had previously expressed some openness to restrictions on bullet magazines, in a statement. “The legislative proposals face an uphill battle in Congress.”

Some Democrats, too, might have reservations. More than a half-dozen red-state Democrats are up for election in 2014, and they may not want a gun vote hanging around their necks. Other Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have top grades from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and will have to be convinced to go along with the president. Freshman Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) of North Dakota called Democratic proposals “extreme” before they even became public. 

What happens in the Senate will do much to shape what, if any, action happens in Congress’s other half. The reaction from the House was summed up by a short statement from the office of Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio, effectively saying: Call us when the Senate does something.

"House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations,” said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman. “And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that."

As in the Senate, a few House Democrats in conservative-leaning districts might be wary of a risky vote on guns. Support for gun rights is one reason that lawmakers such as Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah, Jim McIntyre (D) of North Carolina, and Nick Rahall of West Virginia survive. All three received financial support from the NRA.

Representative Rahall, for example, voted against the crime bill containing the original assault-weapons ban in 1994.
Moreover, more Democrats are looking at tight reelection contests than are Republicans. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates 16 Democratic seats in 2014 that are toss-ups or lean slightly toward the Democrat versus only six Republicans in a similar situation.

Were controversial legislation to come to the House, that chamber’s final response to the president may sound something like the response of Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia to Obama's proposals. Representative Goodlatte said his committee would look at the president’s recommendations as it went about its own review of policy aimed at preventing future incidents like the shooting in Newtown.

“However,” Goodlatte said, “good intentions do not necessarily make good laws.”


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