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Obama To Unveil Gun Control Plans

President Obama will make his second speech on guns and gun violence at the White House Wednesday. He is urging Congress to move quickly to pass a raft of bills that would limit access to more deadly weapons. Among the guests at Wednesday's speech: children who wrote to him after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

From his first days in office, President Obama has made a point of reading the mail. Aides sort letters to the White House and make sure that a few reach the president.

MONTAGNE: Today, some of those letter-writers will be at the White House. The president speaks about guns, while surrounded by children who wrote him with their concerns about shootings.

INSKEEP: Behind the emotional power of that White House scene lies a practical problem. Even after last month's shootings in Connecticut, it's hard to find gun control plans that can pass Congress.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: President Obama has called the Newtown shooting the most difficult day of his presidency. When it happened, he set a one-month deadline for coming up with proposals. And now four weeks have passed. In that time, Vice President Biden met with dozens of interest groups to get their suggestions on how to stop gun violence.

Biden pulled together his recommendations, and now President Obama will present them in detail. He's already given some previews. At a news conference Monday, Mr. Obama said he wants Congress to renew an assault weapons ban that expired almost a decade ago, difficult as that may be.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense.

SHAPIRO: The assault weapons ban seems to have no chance in the Republican-controlled House. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that's enough to keep him from bringing it up in the Senate.

But White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday he does not believe it's dead on arrival.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

JAY CARNEY: We will push for things that are hard, because they're the right things to do. If these things were easy, they would have been achieved already. If renewal of the assault weapons ban were easily accomplished, it would not need renewing, because it would have happened already.

SHAPIRO: The assault weapons ban is just one of many steps the president will call on Congress to take. He'll push them to act fast. But the White House wants lawmakers to decide specifically what they vote on, when.

Congressman Mike Thompson of California is a Democrat leading the House task force on gun violence. He says, in theory, this idea of putting policy over politics sounds great.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE THOMPSON: But at the same time, we have to be realistic. And we don't want to put together the best policy package only to see it failed.

SHAPIRO: Thompson intends to prioritize, focusing first on what's easy to do. The House Democrat says that category covers plenty of ground, from expanding background checks to banning high-capacity ammunition magazines.

THOMPSON: So probably the two issues that would make the biggest difference in making our community safer. And that's something that we can surely get good support from all corners on.

SHAPIRO: It's true that those measures have broad support. According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of Americans support universal background checks, and that's true of both parties. But even on something as generally popular as this, there is resistance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

DAVID KEENE: It's very, very difficult to do.

SHAPIRO: NRA President David Keene spoke with NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED earlier this week. He said tracking every time a gun changes hands creates all kinds of problems.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

KEENE: One of the things that we are adamantly opposed to, and presently something which is prohibited, is the keeping of a national registry of firearms, because it can easily result in confiscation of those firearms.

SHAPIRO: So even measures with broad public support may be tough to get through Congress. But there are plenty of steps that don't involve Congress.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel talked about some of them at a forum sponsored by the Center for American Progress.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: There are a lot of laws on the books that today, both states attorneys or U.S. attorneys, do not prosecute for a whole host of reasons. And I think there's got to be an edict from the attorney general: This is in your portfolio. We're going to measure your prosecutions.

SHAPIRO: And there are lots of other steps, from improving research on gun violence to strengthening the mental health safety net.

Some members of Congress are afraid that the president's executive orders will undermine the Second Amendment. Republican Steve Stockman of Texas threatened to file articles of impeachment over this.

White House spokesman Jay Carney urged a little perspective.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CARNEY: The president of the United States believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to bear arms. He has been explicit about this.

SHAPIRO: Today, he'll try to strike a balance between protecting those rights, while still keeping weapons out of the hands of people who would misuse them.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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