WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday called for Congress to vote on a variety of gun control proposals that are currently up for debate, and he offered a heartfelt, but not sharply political, endorsement for the proposals.
Towards the end of his State of the Union address, as the speech reached a crescendo, the president turned to the topic of gun violence: "What I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource -- our children."
"This is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence," Obama said. But two months after the shooting of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., he said, "This time is different."
"Overwhelming majorities of Americans -– Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment -- have come together around common-sense reform, like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun," Obama continued. "Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned."
Universal background checks, and the tougher penalties for "straw purchases" of guns, are some of the most popular gun-control proposals among voters, and both may eventually win bipartisan support. But a ban on military-style weapons faces an uphill battle in Congress, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has championed a renewal of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004.
The measures face opposition largely from Republicans, but in an unexpected move, Obama did not single out any of the biggest obstacles to the bills, which include the powerful National Rifle Association. Instead, he asked only they be put to a vote.
"Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress," he said. "If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."
The president's take is similar to that of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who enjoys a positive rating from the NRA. Reid has so far been noncommittal on specific gun-control proposals, but said in a recent interview that lawmakers should vote on each of them.
To drive home his point on the need for action on gun control, Obama invoked a string of mass shootings that have occurred during his administration. The State of the Union audience included dozens of people whose lives had been affected by gun violence, invited as guests of congressional Democrats and the White House.
Obama received one of the biggest standing ovations of the night as he saluted the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a young woman killed by gun violence, and demanded that Congress vote on gun-control measures.
"One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house," he said.
"Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote," he said. "[Former Rep.] Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence -- they deserve a simple vote."
As he prepared to finish the speech, the president acknowledged -- and some might say disarmed -- the argument favored by many who oppose gun control laws that no law can eliminate all gun violence.
"Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight," Obama said. "But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government."
Two official responses are expected after Obama's speech, one from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), and another from Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). As two of the most conservative members of the Senate, both Paul and Rubio are staunchly opposed to gun control.