WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (PIX11) — President Barack Obama came to Connecticut to urge Congress to follow the Constitution State’s lead and vote on gun legislation that is very popular among Americans, according to polls. Despite that, however, the prospects for a gun control debate in Congress — let alone a vote — are fair at best.
The president met with Sandy Hook victims in a separate room before addressing a capacity crowd at the University of Hartford Sports Center Monday afternoon. His speech came just hours after the leader of the U.S. Senate announced that the legislative body was now ready to consider new gun law proposals.
“Newtown, we want you to know that we’re here with you,” the president said. “We will not walk away from the promises we’ve made. We are as determined as ever to do what must be done.”
President Obama’s comments were part of a coordinated effort between the White House and congressional Democrats to get some kind of gun legislation voted on. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called on his fellow senators to remember the families of Newtown as they considered whether or not to vote on proposed gun laws.
One of those families spoke with PIX11 News just before heading into the field house to hear their president speak.
“This is make or break,” Darren Wagner of Newtown said. “This is where the fight starts to get comprehensive legislation passed.” He was among hundreds of Newtown Families who drove 40 miles to stand with the president to call on Congress to act.
“This week,” said President Obama, Congress will begin debating commonsense proposals to reduce gun violence. But Congress is only going to act on them if they hear from you — the American people.”
“When I said in my State of the Union Address that these proposals deserve a vote — that the families of Newtown and Aurora, and Tucson, and their former colleague in that chamber, Gabby Giffords, all deserve a vote — virtually every member in that chamber stood up and applauded. Now they’re going to deny those families — your families — a vote when the cameras are off and they think no one’s looking? You deserve better. You deserve a vote.”
The president chose to speak in Connecticut for two main reasons. One, its state legislature passed the country’s strongest gun measures last week, including a ban on military style weapons, and background checks on almost everyone who buys a gun.
The other main reason President Obama came to Connecticut is that he and his policies are popular overall, in the state. Ironically, though, that point was emphasized to PIX11 News by a man from Michigan, who spent Monday afternoon outside of the venue where the president was going to speak. Michigander Tom Moran displayed the banner he’d spent 17 hours making, that called for universal background checks.
“I appreciate the president, but I came because the power in our country comes from the people. The only way that things are going to change is if people speak up,” Tom Moran said.
He added, echoing the president’s comments, a message for Congress. “They should have the courage to face those people [in Newtown] and have a vote. We need to tell them we’re not going to hide.”
Moran’s banner was so big that it required three people to hold it up, and he’d come alone from Michigan. However, he had no problem in Central Connecticut finding volunteers to help him display his message.
In fact, beyond Connecticut, Americans strongly lean one way in poll after poll regarding the basic issues of gun control. In one of the most recent national polls on the subject, from Marist/NBC, 57 percent of people surveyed supported a ban on military style assault weapons, compared to 37 percent opposing.
Even more remarkable, a full 9 Americans out of 10 — 87 percent — said they support background checks for all private gun sales and gun shows, with only 12 percent opposing in the Marist/NBC poll.
However, at this point, there is no guarantee that new gun legislation will pass in Washington. In fact, it’s possible that through evasive parliamentary measures, like filibustering, conservative Republicans in Congress will prevent any debate on gun legislation, despite overwhelming support by many of their constituents to have such legislation voted on and passed.
That’s why the president returned to Connecticut, with the support of families from Sandy Hook. “If you’re an American who wants to do something to prevent more families from knowing the immeasurable anguish that these families know,” President Obama said, “now is the time to act. Now is the time to get engaged, to get involved, to push back on fear, frustration and misinformation. Now is the time to make your voice heard from every state house to the corridors of Congress.”
The National Rifle Association is lobbying hard for members of Congress to not vote on passing new gun laws, but Newtown families PIX11 spoke with were hopeful that such an effort will be overcome.
“I wouldn’t be here [with the president] if I wasn’t confident, comfortable, that we’re going to see something happen,” said Darren Wagner, who’s not only a Newtown resident, but is also a leader of the gun control advocacy group Newtown Action Alliance. “Is this the end?” he asked. “Absolutely not.”
Eleven Sandy Hook families were slated to fly back to Washington with the president on Air Force One from Connecticut. The families will head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby legislators in person to try and get some gun measures passed.
The measure with the greatest chance of passage is a universal background check requirement. Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have been trying to hammer out a bipartisan deal on the issue. The two are expected to announce by mid-week whether or not they’ve been successful.