Invoking Tucson Shooting, Obama Seeks ‘Common Sense’ Restrictions on Gun Sales

By Fred Lucas and Susan Jones | March 15, 2011 | 6:11 AM EDT

Law enforcement officers outside a Safeway store after a gunman targeting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ari.) opened fire in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/James Palka)

Washington ( – Two months after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, President Obama is calling for “agreement on gun reforms.”  He says he wants to start a new dialogue with both sides of the gun debate.

In reaction, the National Rifle Association said on Monday it “welcomes any serious discussion on policies that focus on prosecuting criminals and fixing deficiencies in the mental health system.”

Also on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that Justice Department officials would begin the gun dialogue this week: “The Department of Justice has reached out to stakeholders on all sides of this issue and they are going to be holding a series of discussions as a first step, and some of those meetings are happening this week,” Carney told reporters.

Pressed later for more specifics, Carney said the administration is not prepared to support any specific legislative proposal yet.

“There is room for us to have reasonable laws that uphold liberty, ensure citizen safety, respect the Second Amendment, and we should be able to find some common ground on some of those measures,” Carney said. “I don’t want to detail what those measures are or what he has in mind specifically. Conversations are beginning along those lines by the Department of Justice.”

Obama, who in the past has supported gun control measures, launched his call for “commonsense” reforms in an op-ed on Sunday, March 13, in The Arizona Daily Star, a Tucson newspaper.

Although he didn’t offer new proposals, Obama listed three “sound and effective steps” to prevent the “irresponsible, law-breaking few” from getting guns.

First, he called for improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. “Bipartisan legislation four years ago was supposed to strengthen this system, but it hasn't been properly implemented. It relies on data supplied by states - but that data is often incomplete and inadequate. We must do better,” Obama wrote.

Second, Obama said states that “provide the best data” to NICS should be rewarded. He didn’t offer details.
And third, he called for providing an “instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can't escape it.”

Obama criticized “porous background checks,” saying they’re bad for police officers, law-abiding citizens and gun sellers. “If we're serious about keeping guns away from someone who's made up his mind to kill, then we can't allow a situation where a responsible seller denies him a weapon at one store, but he effortlessly buys the same gun someplace else,” he wrote.

“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.”

In the newspaper op-ed, President Obama said he believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. “The courts have settled that as the law of the land,” he added.

National Rifle Association officials, responding to President Obama’s op-ed in a March 14 letter, said that “to focus a national dialogue on guns – and not criminals or mental health issues – misses the point entirely.”

The NRA said it agrees with Obama’s assertion that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. “Your record as a public official, however, is anything but supportive of the rights of law-abiding gun owners.” Among other things, the NRA noted that Obama has surrounded himself with advisers – and appointed two Supreme Court justices -- “who have advocated against the Second Amendment for years.”

Further, the NRA suggested that if Obama is serious about enforcing the laws already on the books, he should start by enforcing those laws that take violent criminals off the streets. The NRA suggested that Obama have every U.S. attorney bring at least ten cases a month against drug dealers, gang members and other violent felons who are caught with illegal firearms.

Prosecuting those felons in federal court, rather than state court, would result in fewer plea bargains and dismissals, and it would bring longer prison terms. “This simple directive would result in roughly 12,000 violent criminals being taken off the streets every year. Surely you agree that this would be a good first step,” the NRA said.

The NRA letter is signed by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and NRA Executive Director Chris Cox.