President Obama traveled to Minneapolis on Monday as part of his campaign to pass stricter gun-control legislation. “We don’t have to agree on everything to agree that it’s time to do something,” he said in his speech. “That’s my main message here today.”
But within his remarks were signals on where the politics of the gun-control debate are headed, and how the administration is attempting to take on opponents, particularly the National Rifle Association. Here’s what we learned from today’s speech:
Obama directly responded to the NRA. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA made a pitch for more armed guards in schools. Obama wasn’t ceding any ground on that front: The event’s backdrop was filled with police officers in their uniforms. Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau introduced the president by highlighting his support for allowing districts to implement more resource officers, if they want them. By focusing on law enforcement and underscoring support for bolstering police presence in schools, Obama was attempting to neutralize the NRA’s argument.
Obama’s most realistic prize: universal background checks. Universal background checks are the most popular provision in the president’s legislative arsenal, according to national polls. He drove home that point, framing it as a common-sense reform that Americans want. To have any success with his gun-control agenda, he’ll need to get the background checks through Congress. While Obama is still pitching for other more ambitious goals — magazine limits, assault-weapons bans — he’s keeping his eye on the most realistic prize.
The president argued that the gun lobby doesn’t effectively represent gun owners. Obama is attempting to reach out to gun owners, while criticizing the gun lobby. While noting gun owners’ support for universal background checks, Obama said: “If we’ve got lobbyists in Washington claiming to speak for gun owners saying something different, we have to go to the source.”
Going to the source, however, will be tough: The NRA is categorically opposed to the proposed reforms. Trying to organize gun owners who would support such reforms will be a challenge. But to win over red-state Democratic senators, it’s a necessity.
Obama needs to mobilize his base to pressure Congress. The president is not shying away from using the bully pulpit to push for gun-control reform. But it may not be enough. Obama’s challenge: Mobilize supporters to push their congressional representatives to support universal background checks — especially in swing states and districts where opinion is more closely divided and members are undecided.
“I need everybody who’s listening to keep the pressure on your member of Congress to do the right thing. Ask them if they support common-sense reforms like requiring universal background checks. Tell them there’s no legislation to eliminate all guns. There’s no legislation being proposed to subvert the Second Amendment,” Obama said.