W.Va. delegation mixed on proposals
WASHINGTON -- West Virginia's Congressional delegation conveyed mixed reactions to a series of gun control proposals announced by President Barack Obama on Wednesday.
The president's sweeping, $500 million plan, coming one month after the school massacre in Connecticut, marks the most comprehensive effort to tighten gun laws in nearly two decades. But his proposals, most of which are opposed by the National Rifle Association, face a doubtful future in a divided Congress where Republicans control the House.
Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia opposed the president's proposals, saying she was not pleased with the president's use of executive orders to take some relatively minor actions on Wednesday.
Democrats Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, while saying they supported measures to curb mass violence, were non-committal regarding Obama's proposals in their statements to media Wednesday.
Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller said he was in full support of the president's plan.
Obama urged Congress on Wednesday to require background checks for all gun sales and ban both military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in an emotion-laden plea to curb gun violence in America.
Obama signed 23 executive actions on Wednesday, including orders to make more federal data available for background checks and end a freeze on government research on gun violence. But he acknowledged that the steps he took on his own would have less impact than the broad measures requiring approval from Capitol Hill.
"To make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act," Obama said, speaking at a White House ceremony with school children and their parents. "And Congress must act soon."
The president's announcements capped a swift and wide-ranging effort, led by Vice President Joe Biden, to respond to the deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But Obama's gun control proposals set him up for a tough political fight with Congress as he starts his second term, when he'll need Republican support to meet three looming fiscal deadlines and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
"I will put everything I've got into this, and so will Joe," the president said. "But I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it."
Local legislators were quick to react to Wednesday's news.
Capito was the most outspoken of West Virginia's Congressional delegation.
"West Virginians want us to work together to find common ground solutions to reduce gun violence in the United States -- a goal we all share. That's why I am disappointed that President Obama issued an executive order today instead of showing willingness to work with Congress and State Leaders to address this serious issue," Capito said. "Whether appointing Czars to run car companies, using the EPA to regulate where it can legislate, or using executive orders to circumvent Congress on gun control, the President has displayed a worrisome willingness to use the White House to advance ideological agendas.
"I will continue to consider ideas and proposals that address this issue in an inclusive manner, from the level of violence in the media to how we address mental illness in this country to gun laws."
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was in favor of the president's proposals, calling them "a strong, comprehensive plan to protect our citizens from gun violence."
Rockefeller said the memory of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary should serve as a call to action for the government to do everything it can to save innocent lives.
"In West Virginia, we have a proud tradition of hunting and understand the importance of the Second Amendment. We can protect those traditions and rights as we look for ways to prevent senseless acts of violence," he said. "Throughout my career, I've fought to reduce gun violence - including supporting the original ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines and eliminating loopholes in background checks for firearms purchases, as well as efforts to require child safety locks with every handgun purchase and prohibit domestic violence abusers from purchasing firearms. Today, I support steps that build on these ideas, while making sure our hunters' and sportsmen's rights are protected."
Rockefeller, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said he plans to introduce legislation next week to study the impact of violent content, including video games and video programming, on children.
While traveling in West Virginia for meetings with local leaders about school safety, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he had not had the opportunity to fully review the President's recommendations, but he plans to "weigh each recommendation carefully."
"However, I am disappointed that the President did not recommend the creation of the national commission on mass violence that I have proposed," Manchin said. "A national commission can build the consensus we need for real action backed not only by gun control advocates, mental health experts and entertainment industry executives but also by law-abiding gun owners who fully understand the history and heritage of firearms in America. Violence destroys the dignity, hopes and lives of millions of Americans, and we have a unique opportunity to stop this epidemic - but only if we can put politics aside and have an honest and effective conversation about what to do about our culture of mass violence."
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., issued a statement following the president's remarks, saying the problem is "bigger and broader" than just guns, adding identifying those with mental illnesses and criminal backgrounds who are a threat to others through mental health services and counseling is a more welcome initiative.
"Expanding funds for resource officers, who are already an effective presence in our state schools, ought to receive support. And, strengthening the background check system for purchasing firearms, by more seamlessly sharing information, makes sense," Rahall said.
"While the president has unveiled his recommendations, the Congress is not bound to accept any of his legislative proposals. I expect and will push for a full debate, so that West Virginians have every opportunity to understand the proposals before the Congress and to make their views known."
In a statement Wednesday, the NRA said, "Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected" by Obama's efforts and the nation's children "will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy."
And on the eve of Obama's announcement, the NRA released an online video accusing him of being an "elitist hypocrite" for sending his daughters to school with armed Secret Service agents while opposing having guards with guns at all U.S. schools.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the video "repugnant and cowardly."
The president's proposals did include a $150 million request to Congress that would allow schools to hire 1,000 new police officers, counselors and psychologists. The White House plan also includes legislative and executive action to increase mental health services, including boosting funding for training aimed at getting young people into treatment more quickly.
A lopsided 84 percent of Americans back broader background checks, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. Nearly six in 10 Americans want stricter gun laws, the same poll showed, with majorities favoring a nationwide ban on military-style weapons and limits on gun violence depicted in video games, movies and TV shows.
The NRA and pro-gun lawmakers have long suggested that violent images in video games and entertainment are more to blame for mass shootings than the availability of guns. But Obama's proposals do little to address that concern, other than calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research links between violent images and gun attacks.
Government scientists have been prohibited from researching the causes and prevention of gun violence since 1996, when a budget amendment was passed that barred researchers from spending taxpayer money on such studies.
The administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for expanded research.
Obama also wants lawmakers to ban armor-piercing ammunition, except for use by the military and law enforcement. And he's asking them to create stiffer penalties for gun trafficking, to provide $14 million to help train police officers and others to respond to shootings, and to approve his nominee to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
One of the president's executive actions on Wednesday was to nominate B. Todd Jones to head the ATF, which has been without a permanent director since 2006. Jones has served as the bureau's acting director since 2011.