President Barack Obama on Wednesday followed through on his pledge to use the power of his office to curb abuse of firearms by tapping Vice President Joe Biden to head up the effort.
Since Biden is the national legislator with the longest track record of gun control, some gun enthusiasts in the Tri-state are concerned about the president’s decision, even while acknowledging that Biden’s presence in Obama’s new gun control initiative could help to assure its adoption.
The president announced this new effort with Biden by his side in the White House Briefing Room. President Obama also made a guess about the mindset of the American people here in the days following the killing of 20 children and 6 teachers by gunman Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut. Lanza also took his own life and fatally shot his mother.
“I am… betting,” the president said, “that the majority, the vast majority, of responsible, law abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war.”
Agreeing with the president was chief firearms instructor Latief Dickerson, owner of the New Jersey Firearms Academy in Jersey City. However, Dickerson was adamant that passing new laws regulating guns is not the way to achieve the president’s goals.
“We want to prevent us being penalized by legislation, which is often misguided and ill informed,” Dickerson told PIX11 News.
He is skeptical of President Obama’s selection of the vice president as the director of the gun regulation effort because Biden, as a U.S. senator, was the driving force behind the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which included the ten-year-long assault weapons ban. After it expired, Biden tried and failed to get the 2007 Crime Control and Prevention Act passed. It would have imposed an arguably tighter assault weapons ban than the first one.
The president and vice president may be now exploring similar measures to the tighter ban that Biden had tried to get passed into law five years ago. They may also be feeling that the measure has a greater chance of passage following Newtown.
Dickerson, though, doesn’t see that as a good thing, despite the deaths and the sorrow. He’s an 18-year veteran firearms instructor who remembers well when the last assault weapons ban was in effect. He said that it made some supervised shooting activities for which he trains people into something of a farce.
“The [semiautomatic] firearms had to be pre-ban. They had to be owned before the ban,” Dickerson told PIX11 News. In competitions, in which he and his students were active participants, there was only one way to use newly-made semiautomatic rifles. “They had to make exceptions,” he said, “and that shows the flaws in this legislation.”
Karen Awad agreed. “We have enough gun laws,” she said. Awad, herself an instructor at Dickerson’s firearms training school, is part of a larger national trend of which Nancy Lanza, the mother of the Newtown gunman, was also a part of — a decades-long increase in women using firearms.
Thirty years ago, Awad turned her hobby into a passion, and now she is not only a full-time instructor, but she has also won more than 30 gold medals in marksmanship at the Empire State games, and holds more than a half dozen state records for accuracy. She told PIX11 News that the president’s new actions don’t settle the main problems that led to the Newtown shooting.
“How did a person with mental problems have access to a gun?” asked Awad. “That’s what I want answered. …If [Lanza's mother] knew he had issues, why did she even have a gun?”
President Obama’s comments about his gun control legislative initiative actually echoed those comments. “I’m willing to bet that [the majority of Americans] don’t think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas,” the president said, “that an unbalanced man shouldn’t be able to get his hands on a military-style assault rifle so easily.”
The president also said that his legislative initiative is about more than just firearms. “We’re going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun,” said President Obama. “We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence. And any actions we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.”
The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request from PIX11 News for comment. However, the NRA is expected in a much-anticipated news conference on Friday — the first public appearance of its leadership since the Newtown shooting — to make a proposal similar to the president’s statement. NRA leaders are widely expected to call for greater access to mental health care and a de-emphasis of violence in movies, television and video games.