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Obama Wades Into Gun Control Debate, Two Months After Tucson, Arizona Shooting

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WASHINGTON -- Two months after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others in Tucson, Arizona, President Barack Obama finally waded substantively into the debate over gun-control policy.

In an op-ed so under-the-radar that several gun-control activists said they hadn't been aware of its publication, the president penned a thousand-word piece for the Arizona Daily Star on the need for sensible reforms in second-amendment law.

“I know that every time we try to talk about guns, it can reinforce stark divides. People shout at one another, which makes it impossible to listen. We mire ourselves in stalemate, which makes it impossible to get to where we need to go as a country,” Obama wrote. “However, I believe that if common sense prevails, we can get beyond wedge issues and stale political debates to find a sensible, intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place.”

As for practical policy suggestions, Obama had a few: enforce laws already on the books, including proper implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; push for greater state-to-state coordination; and “make the system faster and nimbler” so that those conducting background checks have the best available data. The president also left open the door for more reforms in the future, saying that this moment should only be the “beginning of a new discussion on how we can keep America safe for all our people.”

It was, in short, a first bite at some low-hanging fruit -- not mentioned in the piece are high-capacity magazines, which allowed the Tucson shooter, Jared Laughner, to get off 30-plus shots without reloading. It also seemed to be a set of policy proposals that the White House didn’t feel all that compelled to promote. Immediately following Tucson, aides to the president had suggested he would be making a high-profile speech on gun policy -- an address that never materialized.

Nevertheless, those in the gun-control activist community were pleased, having waited for Obama to finally put his imprint on the debate.

“Actually, I like this,” emailed Jim Kessler, a former director of policy and research at Americans for Gun Safety. “There will be a knee-jerk reaction among some who will say, “Why no clip ban?” But I think on both substance and political grounds, a high-capacity clip ban is the wrong way to go. There were roughly 12,000 gun homicides last year, and I’ll wager that less than 10 were caused by bullets 11 through 30 in someone’s magazine. The problem is bullets 1, 2, and 3 –- not 11, 12, and 13."

“The Obama focus seems to be on shoring up a background system that is the lynchpin of the nation’s gun laws,” Kessler added. “A better system that more accurately and quickly weeds out ineligible buyers may not be sexy, but it reduces crime. And there seems to be some indication that the president is seeking to expand background checks to some other sales that have been previously exempt –- perhaps gun shows. That’s a heavy lift in Congress, but that’s the right direction.”

An email seeking reaction from the National Rifle Association was not immediately returned.

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