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Yesterday, President Obama announced a sweeping strategy that he hopes will curb gun violence. The 23-point plan, which comes with a $500 million price tag, includes 17 executive orders and six provisions requiring approval by Congress. The items that need to pass through Congress are the most controversial, and also perhaps the most likely to have an effect, including requiring background checks for all gun sales, banning assault weapons, and limiting high-capacity magazines.
Many lawmakers from the St. Louis region weighed in on Obama's proposals, and in the least shocking news of the day, their responses all sounded a lot like the same old partisan politics. That's probably bad news for the president and his plan.
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was among the many Republicans who criticized Obama following the announcement, either for the principles of the president's plan or for circumventing Congress with his executive orders. Blunt accused Obama of failing "to address ways that we can prevent tragic events like Sandy Hook, and instead, he's attempting to restrict the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans." Blunt went on to say, "We need to have a serious national discussion about preventing senseless acts of violence and protecting our children in their schools, and that should include finding ways to spend federal dollars more wisely when it comes to treating and identifying people who are mentally ill."
The mental illness argument has become popular among Conservatives, but it seems to be an awkward one for them to make. After all, beefing up mental health care is the sort of thing that would probably cost money, and increasing spending isn't exactly part of the Republican mission statement. To be sure, the GOP is not the party of increased government services. That might be why Blunt referenced spending "more wisely" rather than just "more."
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R.-St. Elizabeth) said the president was stepping beyond his bounds. "I am disappointed by the president’s remarks and actions today," he said in a statement. "The Administration’s decision to circumvent the elected representatives of the American people is surely not the right way to approach an issue of constitutional significance."
Meanwhile, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D.-St. Louis) voiced his support for a ban on assault weapons and restrictions on magazines. Sen Claire McCaskill (D.-Mo.) says she supports both increased mental health services and extending background checks. University City Mayor Shelley Welsch, as a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, released a statement supporting Obama, saying, "There are 33 Americans murdered with guns every day, and there's something we can do to stop the bloodshed… President Obama announced today that he is taking bold steps to address the epidemic of gun violence in America. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress must work together to pass common-sense measures."
It would be nice if, as Welsch suggests, the gun debate could focus on common sense. Instead, it will likely continue to be one cable news pundit yelling at another cable news pundit yelling at Wayne LaPierre. And through all the yelling, nothing will happen. That's a shame, because there are some pieces of these proposals that have fairly wide support, even among gun owners. The closing of the gun-show background-check loophole, for instance, has support from gun owners and members of the NRA (though not that organization's leadership), studies show.
If our leaders would spend a little less time posturing, they might be able to find some solutions.