RELATED: Sheriffs, state lawmakers push back on gun control
The fate of his plan could ultimately hinge on a handful of moderate Democratic senators. Although they are unlikely to endorse the president's call for banning assault weapons, they might go along with other proposals, such as requiring universal background checks on gun purchases.
Poll: Americans Outraged over Shootings....
Americans were angrier about last month's horrific school shooting in Connecticut than they were about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
And more favor stricter gun laws now than did shortly after the shooting deaths of 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech in April 2007.
Three-quarters of Americans said they reacted to the Connecticut massacre of with deep anger, higher than the 65 percent who said they felt that way in a poll from NORC at the University of Chicago after the 9/11 attacks. A majority, 54 percent, said they felt deeply ashamed that an event like Newtown could happen in the United States, well above the 40 percent who said they felt that way in the wake of the disaster that followed Hurricane Katrina and 35 percent who felt that way after the shootings at Virginia Tech.
The massacre prompted 3 in 10 to give serious thought to whether they could really be safe anywhere these days and 4 in 10 felt strongly that the deaths could have been prevented. Both figures are higher now than after the Virginia Tech shooting deaths.
About a third said that after Newtown, they felt there may be too many guns in this country. A similar share said they worried how the shooting would impact U.S. gun laws.
President Barack Obama unveiled Wednesday a wide-ranging package of steps for reducing gun violence, including proposed bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as universal background checks for gun sales.
Many of the more restrictive proposals under consideration, such as the assault-weapons ban, would face stiff congressional opposition, particularly among Republicans.
By contrast, the general public appears receptive to stronger federal action following the Dec. 14 shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.
Some 58 percent favor strengthening gun laws in the United States. Just 5 percent felt such laws should be loosened, while 35 percent said they should be left unchanged.
In comparison, after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 47 percent wanted stricter gun laws, 38 percent thought they should remain as is and 11 percent wanted to see them loosened.
Caroline Konczey, 63, a retired Navy officer from Indio, Calif., is among those supporting a ban on military-style assault weapons. "I can't imagine why anyone would want one," she said. "What do you do with that, unless you're a collector?"
She suggested an underlying source of gun violence was the breakdown of the nuclear family and a lack of access to mental health care. "Until you strengthen the structure of the family that teaches respect for people, then this stuff goes down," she said.
Specifically, majorities in the new poll favored a nationwide ban on military-style, rapid-fire guns (55 percent) and limits on the amount and type of gun violence that can be portrayed in video games, movies or on television (54 percent). About half (51 percent) of those surveyed back a ban on the sale of magazines holding 10 or more bullets.
A lopsided 84 percent of adults would like to see the establishment of a federal standard for background checks for people buying guns at gun shows, the poll found.
At the same time 51 percent said that they believed laws limiting gun ownership infringe on the public's Second Amendment right to possess and carry firearms. Among Republicans, 75 percent cited such infringement.
Most Democrats (76 percent) and independents (60 percent) back stricter gun laws, while a majority of Republicans (53 percent) want gun laws left alone.
There is also a gender gap. Gun control is a more important issue for women, with 68 percent saying it was very or extremely important to them, than for men (57 percent). And women are more likely to back stricter gun laws: 67 percent favor them, compared with 49 percent of men.
"Military-style weapons should be military guns, not John Q. Public guns," said Ellen Huffman, 55, of Huntersville, N.C., who supports a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Huffman said early detection of mental health problems would go a long way to curbing gun violence. If such problems are caught early enough "you won't have people killing people," she said.
Among gun owners, just 40 percent back a ban on the sale of military-type, rapid-fire guns, and 37 percent favor a ban on high-capacity magazines, while 66 percent of non-gun owners would ban military-style weapons and 60 percent would ban high-capacity magazines.
However, 80 percent of gun owners do support federal standards for gun-show background checks, as do 87 percent of non-gun owners.
Gun owners lean more Republican than the overall public. Fifty-five percent of them are Republicans, compared with 30 percent who are Democrats.
Max Lude, 70, a retired teacher from West Frankfort, Ill., said limiting magazines to 10 rounds "is probably the smartest thing they can do" to reduce mass tragedies. Mandatory background checks also would help, as would mandatory prison sentences for those convicted of gun grimes, said Lude, a National Rifle Association member and hunter-safety instructor.
"It's a complicated problem with a complicated solution," he said. "It's not just a one-time, quick-fix deal."
The gun control debate heated up after Adam Lanza, 20, shot his way into the Newtown school on Dec. 14 and killed 26 people before committing suicide. Lanza also killed his mother at her home before the shooting spree. His mother kept guns at the home she shared with her son.
The poll of 1,004 adults was conducted by telephone Jan. 10-14, 2013. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
"I will look closely at all proposals on the table, but we must use common sense and respect our Constitution," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. Tester told the Missoulian newspaper in his home state recently that he supports background checks but doesn't think an assault weapons ban would have stopped the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman massacred 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself.
Obama's proposals came a month after the shootings in Newtown, which he has called the worst day of his presidency. His announcements capped a swift and wide-ranging effort, led by Vice President Joe Biden, to respond to the deaths.
The $500 million plan marks the most comprehensive effort to tighten gun laws in nearly two decades. It also sets up a tough political fight with Congress as Obama starts his second term needing 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."
Seeking to circumvent at least some opposition, Obama signed 23 executive actions 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. He is also calling for limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds or less.
"To make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act," Obama said.
The question now is how and whether that happens.
House GOP leaders have made clear they'll wait for the Senate to act first, since they see no need to move on the contentious topic if it doesn't. "House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that," said Michael Steel, spokesman to House Speaker John Boehner.
Many rank-and-file Republicans scorched Obama's proposal. "The right to bear arms is a right, despite President Obama's disdain for the Second Amendment," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.
Senators are expected to begin discussions on how to proceed when they return to Washington next week from a congressional recess, according to a Democratic leadership aide who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. They could end up breaking the president's proposals into individual pieces, with votes possibly starting next month.
While the assault weapons ban is seen as having little if any chance of passage, support may coalesce behind requiring universal background checks, which is a top priority for advocacy groups that see it as the most important step to curbing gun crimes. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says 40 percent of gun sales are conducted with no criminal background checks, such as in some instances at gun shows or by private sellers over the Internet. Obama would seek to require checks for all sales.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., already has sponsored a bill to require universal background checks that the Senate could take up, while Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., has legislation banning ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a gun-rights backer who's been supported by the National Rifle Association in the past, responded cautiously, saying he was committed to ensuring the Senate considers legislation on gun violence early this year. He didn't endorse any of Obama's proposals.
Despite the uncertainty on Capitol Hill and opposition from the powerful NRA, outside groups are encouraged by polling showing public support for changes to the law. They intend to try to harness that sentiment to pressure lawmakers.
A lopsided 84 percent of Americans back broader background checks, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans want stricter gun laws, the same poll showed, with majorities favoring a nationwide ban on military-style weapons.
"Now it's up to us," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign. He said his group would be working "to bring that voice to bear in this process, because without that it's not going to happen."
ï»¿Sheriffs, state lawmakers push back on gun control
From Oregon to Mississippi, President Barack Obama's proposed ban on new assault weapons and large-capacity magazines struck a nerve among rural lawmen and lawmakers, many of whom vowed to ignore any restrictions - and even try to stop federal officials from enforcing gun policy in their jurisdictions.
"A lot of sheriffs are now standing up and saying, `Follow the Constitution,'" said Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson, whose territory covers the timbered mountains of southwestern Oregon.
But their actual powers to defy federal law are limited. And much of the impassioned rhetoric amounts to political posturing until - and if - Congress acts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said Wednesday it's unlikely an assault weapons ban would actually pass the House of Representatives. Absent action by Congress, all that remains are 23 executive orders Obama announced that apply only to the federal government, not local or state law enforcement.
Gun advocates have seen Obama as an enemy despite his expression of support for the interpretation of the Second Amendment as a personal right to have guns. So his call for new measures - including background checks for all gun buyers and Senate confirmation of a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - triggered new vows of defiance.
In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, urged the Legislature to make it illegal to enforce any executive order by the president that violates the Constitution.
"If someone kicks open my door and they're entering my home, I'd like as many bullets as I could to protect my children, and if I only have three, then the ability for me to protect my family is greatly diminished," Bryant said. "And what we're doing now is saying, `We're standing against the federal government taking away our civil liberties.'"
Tennessee Republican state Rep. Joe Carr wants to make it a state crime for federal agents to enforce any ban on firearms or ammunition. Carr instead called for more armed guards at schools.
"We're tired of political antics, cheap props of using children as bait to gin up emotional attachment for an issue that quite honestly doesn't solve the problem," Carr said.
Legislative proposals to pre-empt new federal gun restrictions also have arisen in Wyoming, Utah and Alaska.
A Wyoming bill specifies that any federal limitation on guns would be unenforceable. It also would make it a state felony for federal agents to try to enforce restrictions.
"I think there are a lot of people who would want to take all of our guns if they could," said co-sponsor Rep. Kendell Kroeker, a Republican. "And they're only restrained by the opposition of the people, and other lawmakers who are concerned about our rights."
Republican state Sen. Larry Hicks credited Wyoming's high rate of gun ownership for a low rate of gun violence.
"Our kids grow up around firearms, and they also grow up hunting, and they know what the consequences are of taking a life," Hicks said. "We're not insulated from the real world in Wyoming."
In Utah, some Republicans are preparing legislation to exempt the state from federal gun laws - and fine any federal agents who try to seize guns. A bill in the Alaska House would make it a misdemeanor for a federal agent to enforce new restrictions on gun ownership.
While such proposals are eye-catching, they likely could never be implemented.
"The legislature can pass anything it wants," said Sam Kamin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Denver. "The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution makes that clearly unconstitutional. Where there's a conflict between state and federal law, the federal government is supreme."
Kamin and other legal experts said such disdain of Obama's proposals is reminiscent of former Confederate states' refusal to comply with federal law extending equal rights for blacks after the Civil War.
The National Sheriff's Association has supported administration efforts to combat gun violence after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. President Larry Amerson, sheriff of Calhoun, Ala., said he understands the frustrations of people in rural areas with the federal government. But he feels his oath of office binds him to uphold all laws.
"Any sheriff who knows his duty knows we don't enforce federal law, per se," said Amerson, a longtime firearms instructor and hunter.
Some rural sheriffs view the federal government as an adversary, with gun ownership at the core of that belief.
In Minnesota, Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole sent an open letter to residents saying he did not believe the federal government had the right to tell the states how to regulate firearms. He said he would refuse to enforce any federal mandate he felt violated constitutional rights.
The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, based in Fredericksburg, Texas, encourages that point of view. Founder Richard Mack, a former sheriff of Apache County, Ariz., speaks regularly at gatherings of Tea Party groups and gun rights organizations.
"I will tell Mr. Obama and everybody else who wants to impose gun control in America, that whether you like it or not, it is against the law," said Mack. "Now we have good sheriffs who are standing up and defending the law against our own president."