U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, accused President Barack Obama on Wednesday of trying to do an end run around the 2nd Amendment and existing law in opposing the White House’s new gun control proposals.
Grassley’s forceful response is a sign of the obstacles the president faces in Congress as he seeks to deal with the aftermath of a string of school shootings, the latest at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut where 20 children were killed.
“Unfortunately, the president seems to think the 2nd Amendment can be tossed aside,” he said.
On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, praised the president’s approach and said it adequately safeguarded 2nd Amendment rights, while dealing with violence in a comprehensive manner.
“As a hunter, I know that the recreational use and collection of guns is important to many Iowans, and as this debate advances, I will work to protect the legitimate rights of law-abiding American gun owners,” Harkin said. “But we cannot continue down a path of unlimited access to any arms, including those capable of shooting hundreds of bullets in a very short time.”
Reps. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., declined to take a stand on the president’s approach or any specific proposals. The plan included a ban on assault-style weapons and ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds, requiring background checks on most private sales of weapons, putting up to 1,000 new resource officials in the nation’s schools and taking steps to identify and help young people at risk of mental illnesses. The White House says three quarters of mental illnesses appear by the age of 24.
“I will take time to study the details of the proposals put forth by the President and continue my ongoing conversations and outreach to the people of my district, including to law enforcement, in the coming weeks,” Bustos said in a statement.
Loebsack held an hourlong conference call with about a dozen law enforcement officials Wednesday, the first of what he says will be a series of meetings with parents, school officials and mental health professionals to try to gather information about how to deal with school violence.
Several of the sheriffs and police chiefs on the call expressed skepticism of the benefits of an assault weapons ban and some about limiting the availability of high-capacity gun magazines. Loebsack has supported putting limits on magazines in the past.
The law enforcement officials instead pointed to mental illness as a key concern, improving background checks and improving safety in schools.
“With 300 million guns in the United States, I think we’re just spinning our wheels. People are going to get guns,” Muscatine County Sheriff Dave White said.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, some mental health professionals have objected to putting too much emphasis on people with illnesses, saying studies show they commit relatively few violent crimes and are more apt to be victims themselves. They also say identifying those who are apt to commit violence is exceedingly difficult.
Still, among the dozen or more law enforcement officials on the call, it was a consistent concern.
“It’s not the gun itself that’s killing people, it’s the person that’s possibly mentally ill that’s not thinking correctly,” Fort Madison Police Chief Bruce Niggemeyer said.
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It’s not clear when lawmakers will vote on the president’s plan. But the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that Harkin chairs plans to hold a hearing next week on mental health issues, and he praised the president’s inclusion of mental health issues in his plan.
Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he is committed to exploring “all aspects” of this violence that is within the panel’s jurisdiction. But he said the president’s approach is inviting mistrust and inviting court fights.
He particularly raised concerns about the president’s pursuit of executive orders.
The White House said 23 executive orders would be pursued in addition to changes in the law.
Many had to do with the nation’s background check system. But one of the executive orders directs the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes and prevention of gun violence. Congress prohibited such expenditures for those purposes in 1997, according to Grassley’s office.
Another, the White House says, would clarify that the new health care law doesn’t prohibit doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes. Grassley’s office pointed to parts of the law it says could conflict with the order.