Tuesday, February 5, 2013


We've been hearing quite a lot on gun safety lately. However, we haven't often heard from those who have the most first-hand experience in the matter. That changed last night when Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley (D) went on "Ralston Reports" to talk about the subject.

(Jump to 9:00 for Haley.)

I can't overstate how critical this is. This shows just how broad and wide support for gun safety reform truly is. And it always helps to have those on the front line, like Mike Haley, speak up and remind us of what's at stake here.

Harry Reid may very well be paying attention. After all, he's finally got the ball rolling in the US Senate. And as we discussed yesterday, it does include most of President Obama's gun safety agenda.

However, there is one thing missing. And it's pretty big. And some gun safety advocates are upset over this glaring omission.

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President Obama asked yesterday why police officers should be outgunned on the streets. And he asked why weapons of war must be allowed into civilian environments. Believe it or not, this argument doesn't fall entirely onto deaf ears, especially beyond Capitol Hill.

So far, it looks like President Obama wants to fight for his entire gun safety plan. And that's music to progressives' ears. Salon's Joan Walsh likely isn't alone in demanding more courage from Congress on gun safety.

I’m tired of red- and purple-state Democrats getting a pass on gun issues because hunting, say, is popular in their states. Who could be more valuable than a red-state Democrat in telling hunters that Obama’s agenda won’t take away their hunting rifles? So I’m glad Obama’s demanding that Congress vote on an assault-weapons ban rather than letting leaders table it, as he did with other first-term priorities,even if that means conservative Democrats must take some tough votes. Of course, letting conservative Democrats crush an assault ban may also serve to protect them from the NRA. That’s allegedly why Reid is open to a vote on the issue. But it could have the unintended consequence of letting those newly motivated by Newtown single out Democrats who deserve criticism, or even a primary challenge, on the issue of guns.

Dianne Feinstein insists that she will push for her assault weapons ban bill, and Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who used to represent Newtown as a congressman, derided those who’ve declared that push futile. “Too many people in Washington want to eulogize specific pieces of gun reform legislation before the debate has even started,” Murphy told “The Rachel Maddow Show.” The time to act is now.

Let me be clear: I think compromise is crucial to getting new policy crafted, and if it turns out legislators can find common ground on a limited package of reforms, chief among them universal criminal background checks, I’d support that. Greg Sargent featured a fascinating interview with crucial GOP House Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, who represents a purple district that went for Obama in 2012. Rigell is teaming up with another Republican, Rep. Scott Meehan, along with Democrats Elijah Cummings and Carolyn McCarthy, to push legislation to crack down on gun trafficking designed to evade background checks. Rigell also says he is open to universal background checks, though he is undecided. “I certainly see the merits of that,” he told Sargent.

Still, being open to compromise is different from suggesting that Democrats should stick to supporting only measures that they know have broad support. The point of leadership is to lead, and as we saw with gay marriage, when the president stakes out a forward-looking stance on a divisive issue, he can help bring people along with him. I’m glad he’s continuing to push for the assault weapon and large magazine ban, even as the serious sensible people of the Beltway insist it will never pass. Maybe he’ll surprise them.

Because of Newtown, we’re in a new era for gun control legislation, which doesn’t mean we’ll get everything we want. But it requires a new approach to political leadership and negotiation, and the president is providing it.

Certainly, it's a good start that Harry Reid is finally being proactive on gun safety reform. And definitely in this case, something is better than nothing. Taking action on expanding background checks, curbing illegal gun trafficking, and limiting magazine capacity can save many lives.

But let's not forget the source of the tragedies in Newtown and Aurora. The most common ingredient in these mass slaughters is a military grade assault weapon. And it doesn't stop there. In inner city neighborhoods, street gangs can outgun law enforcement with their assault weapons. This is a real problem.

Can Congress secure a real solution?

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