House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) adopted a wait-and-see approach Wednesday. His spokesman, Michael Steel, said House committees will consider Obama’s proposals and “if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that.”
But the statements from many other Republicans at both ends of the Capitol were far tougher. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.), who has threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against Obama, condemned what he described as Obama’s “anti-gun sneak attack” and promised a legislative battle to protect “the God-given right to keep and bear arms.”
A potential presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said: “President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence.”
And Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who last week said he would be open to some form of gun control, said on Wednesday that Obama’s executive actions amounted to a “power grab” to “poke holes in the Second Amendment.”
No Republican lawmakers attended Wednesday’s White House ceremony. The only vestige of bipartisanship came when Obama invoked former president Ronald Reagan. He noted that Reagan, “one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment,” wrote to Congress in 1994 to urge support for the assault-weapons ban.
Obama acknowledged that getting his proposals through Congress “will be difficult,” making a veiled reference to powerful lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association.
“There will be pundits and politicians and special-interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty — not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves,” Obama predicted. “And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever.”
In its official response, the NRA adopted a more muted tone than it has in recent weeks, saying it would work with Congress “on a bipartisan basis” to develop solutions that secure the nation’s schools and fix broken mental health systems. The statement did not specifically address Obama’s proposals, which include a $150 million school-safety initiative to help communities hire 1,000 new school resource officers.
But at a huge annual gun show in Las Vegas, the NRA said its opposition to Obama’s plans was “the fight of the century.”
“I warned you this day was coming, and now it’s here,” NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre wrote in a fundraising letter circulated at the trade show. “It’s not about protecting your children. It’s not about stopping crime. It’s about banning your guns . . . PERIOD!”
Gun-control advocates say their strategy will be to highlight popular support for most of Obama’s proposals and rally voters across the country to press their representatives in Congress to act.
“There’s an extraordinary disconnect between what the American public wants — including gun owners and NRA members — and what our elected officials are doing about it,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “It is going to be up to us, the American public, to close that disconnect.”
Obama vowed Wednesday to “put everything I’ve got into this.” In a moving event one month and two days after a gunman killed 20 small children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Obama was flanked by children who wrote him letters in the days after the massacre, pleading with him to do something to curb gun violence.
The president urged Americans to put pressure on their members of Congress and “get them on record” on whether they support universal background checks on gun buyers and renewal of the bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“And if they say no, ask them why not,” Obama said. “Ask them what’s more important: Doing whatever it takes to get an ‘A’ grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off to first grade?”
Vice President Biden, who headed the task force that developed Wednesday’s proposals, said “we have a moral obligation” to reduce the chances that tragedies such as the one in Newtown could happen again.
“I have no illusions about what we’re up against,” Biden said. But he added: “The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.”
Sari Horwitz in Las Vegas and William Branigin, Scott Wilson and Lyndsey Layton in Washington contributed to this report.