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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Updates on the Gun Debate | April 10, 2013

Two senators announce a bipartisan compromise on background checks. Michelle Obama wades into the gun debate. Newtown families urge Republican senators to vote instead of filibuster.

10:43 P.M. Proposed Gun Bill Violates Constitution, N.R.A. Says

A proposed bill to greatly expand background checks on gun buyers that appears set to come up for debate in the Senate contains provisions that “would unfairly infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners,” the National Rifle Association said in a letter sent to senators on Wednesday.

The letter, signed by Chris W. Cox, the head of the N.R.A.'s Institute for Legislative Action, singled out as “misguided” a compromise measure on background checks put forward by Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania.

That measure, which is meant to broaden the appeal of the overall gun-control bill currently under discussion, would include fewer gun buyers in the newly expanded background checks, but provide for record keeping that would allow law enforcement agencies to track guns used in crimes. It would not cover sales between family members and neighbors as Democrats had wanted.

“As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools,” the statement said. “Given the importance of these issues, votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in N.R.A.'s future candidate evaluations.”

The statement called on senators to replace the current provisions with ones “focused on addressing mental health inadequacies; prosecuting violent criminals; and keeping our kids safe in their schools.”

- Michael Schwirtz

7:05 P.M. Michelle Obama: ‘Hadiya Pendleton Was Me'

Michelle Obama stepped into the national debate over guncontrol on Wednesday, speaking before hundreds of business leaders in Chicago and issuing a deeply personal, at times emotional, message about violence.

“Right now my husband is fighting as hard as he can and engaging as many people as he can to pass common-sense reforms to protect our children from gun violence,” Mrs. Obama said. “And these reforms deserve a vote in Congress.”

But Mrs. Obama focused mainly on efforts outside the political sphere to stem violence that has troubled cities like Chicago. She urged the business leaders, who hope to raise $50 million in private funds aimed mainly at helping at-risk youth, to take a serious role in efforts to mentor youths, to create after-school programs and to encourage neighborhood coalitions.

Mrs. Obama spoke of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old high school student who was fatally shot not far from the Obamas' Chicago home and whose funeral she had attended in February.

“As I visited with the Pendleton family at Hadiya's funeral, I couldn't get over how familiar they felt to me,” said Mrs. Obama, who grew up in Chicago. “Because what I realized was Hadiya's family was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me. And I was her. But I got to grow up. And go to Princeton and Harvard Law School and have a career and a family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine.”

Mrs. Obama spoke of Chicago's neighborhoods â€" and the deep divide between the city's gleaming downtown and some of its troubled neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. She reminded the 800 business leaders gathered in a downtown hotel that some city youths may only imagine downtown from the distant skyline because they are instead “consumed with watching their backs” in their neighborhoods.

She also visited students at Harper High, a South Side school in a neighborhood where violence has been prevalent.

Last year, more than 500 homicides occurred in Chicago, many of them shootings and involving young black men. Killings dropped significantly in the first quarter of 2013, compared to a year ago.

Still, many in Chicago remain focused on questions of violence and young people, and $33 million has been raised in recent months by the private sector to help.

“This is my passion,” Mrs. Obama told the group that included Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Garry McCarthy, the city's police superintendent; and other political leaders. “It is my mission and for me, this is personal.”

Again and again, Mrs. Obama spoke of Ms. Pendleton, who had performed during events at President Obama's inauguration just days before her death.

“Hadiya's family did everything right,” Mrs. Obama said. “But she still didn't have a chance. And that story â€" the story of Hadiya's life and death â€" we read that story day after day, month after month, year after year, in this city and around this country.

“So I'm not talking about something that's happening in a war zone halfway around the world. I am talking about what's happening in the city that we call home, the city where we're raising our kids, the city where your businesses operate.”

- Monica Davey

2:36 P.M. Live Video: Names of Gun Victims Read Aloud
The names of victims of gun violence area are read aloud in Washington, D.C.

On the day before the Senate is expected to take up stricter gun measures, gun control advocates read aloud the the names of the 3,000 people killed by guns since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

1:05 P.M. Bloomberg Praises Agreement on Guns

Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Thomas M. Menino of Boston, the co-chairmen of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, issued statements after the announcement of a bipartisan Senate agreement on background checks, thanking Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, for their determination to find common ground that both Democrats and Republicans can support.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City:

Over the last few months, Americans across the country and in both parties have demanded that those in Washington take commonsense steps to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the seriously mentally ill. Today, Senators Manchin and Toomey have forged a bipartisan compromise agreement to extend background checks to cover commercial gun sales, including online and at gun shows. In addition, the bill preserves the same record-keeping practices of the past 40 years that have helped law enforcement solve crimes. I want to thank Senators Manchin and Toomey for their determination to find common ground on a bill that Democrats and Republicans can fully support. This bill will not only help keep guns out of the wrong hands â€" it will help save lives and keep our communities safe. Our bipartisan coalition of more than 900 mayors strongly supports this bill and looks forward to working with other leaders, including Senators Schumer and Kirk who have worked tirelessly on thi s issue, to do all we can to ensure its passage.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston:

Today's announcement of a bipartisan Senate agreement to require background checks for virtually all commercial gun sales shows that, even in an age of Washington gridlock, both parties can work together to reform our gun laws in a way that makes sense and keeps Americans safe. I applaud Senators Toomey and Manchin for putting forth a commonsense bill that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. We've seen far too many American lives lost over the years â€" now is the time for the rest of Congress to stand with the American people and pass sensible gun reform for the sake of our neighborhoods, our families, and our children.

12:18 P.M. Cuomo Criticizes Senate Deal on Background Checks

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who pushed New York to become the first state to enact strict new gun laws after the Newtown, Conn., massacre, on Wednesday called the bipartisan deal in the Senate to expand background checks for gun buyers “better than nothing, but it's only better than nothing.”

“We're not talking about a significant package of gun control anymore,” Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said. “We lost that in the discussion along the way, and it's a shame, because I don't believe there's going to be a moment where people will be more cognizant of the danger and more unified.”

Mr. Cuomo said in an interview on a public radio program, “The Capitol Pressroom,” that the absence of a broader agreement on gun control was “a damning commentary on this Congress, and the extremists in the Congress.”

“It's just unbelievable that this Congress is going to fundamentally fail to act on a societal scourge that the majority of the people in this country support,” Mr. Cuomo said. “The majority of Americans want reasonable gun control - gun owners also. And this is a Congress that is captive of the extremists, and there's no clearer proof than this.”

The negative appraisal by Mr. Cuomo, a possible presidential candidate in 2016, was notable in part because he has persistently refrained from commenting on national politics as governor. His comments on Wednesday were among his most critical in recent memory.

Mr. Cuomo said he did not blame President Obama for the lack of broader legislation on gun control. “I think what happened is the White House has had to recalibrate, given the recalcitrance of the Congress,” Mr. Cuomo said.

- Thomas Kaplan

12:12 P.M. Michelle Obama Travels to Chicago

The first lady, Michelle Obama, is scheduled to speak at a conference on youth violence in Chicago, a city that finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun crime.

12:12 P.M. N.R.A. Responds to Agreement on Gun Measure

The National Rifle Association said in a statement Wednesday that “expanding background checks to gun shows will not prevent the next shooting.” The statement was issued shortly after Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, announced an agreement on a bill that would expand background checks to gun purchases made at gun shows and over the Internet:

Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools. While the overwhelming rejection of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg's “universal” background check agenda is a positive development, we have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows. The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedy in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson. We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone. President Obama should be as committed to dealing with the gang problem that is tormenting honest people in his hometown as he is to blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers.

10:58 A.M. Video: Senators Announce Bipartisan Gun Agreement
Senators Manchin and Toomey describe bipartisan agreement.

Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, announced Wednesday an agreement on a bill that would expand background checks to gun purchases made at gun shows and over the Internet.

Emphasizing that the agreement would not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners, the senators said they were hopeful their agreement would replace the bill that is expected to be considered on the Senate floor Thursday, as my colleague Jennifer Steinhauer reports.

“Pennsylvania has a long bipartisan tradition of supporting gun rights,” Mr. Toomey said. “I am a gun owner, and the rights that are enshrined in the Second Amendment are important to me personally.”

He said that extending criminal and mental health background checks now required for gun purchases at gun stores to gun shows and online sales made sense. “I don't consider criminal background checks as gun control,” he said. “I think it is common sense.”

When asked by a reporter whether he now worried his support for background checks would cost him his A-rating with the National Rifle Association, Senator Toomey replied: “What matters to me is doing the right thing. I think that this is the right thing.”

Mr. Manchin said that he spoke with friends who are gun rights advocates in his state and that he did not run into major objections to the plan.

Both senators also called for the creation of a commission to examine the culture of violence and school security efforts in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and 6 educators dead.

What's next?

10:07 A.M. Bipartisan Agreement on Background Checks

As our colleagues Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman report, an announcement is expected late Wednesday morning on a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun buyers.

Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said that they had agreed on a measure that would most likely replace the current bill.

The Washington Post has published this graphic showing where members of Congress stand on gun issues.