Warren defends Obama’s gun plan, urges voters to challenge candidates

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STATE HOUSE — With President Barack Obama taking heat over his executive actions on gun safety, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday blamed Congressional Republicans for impeding “even the smallest reforms” and urged voters to challenge every candidate running for office on what they plan to do to stop gun violence.

Obama on Tuesday outlined steps he would take to strengthen background checks, hire additional federal agents to track illegal firearms, support smart gun technology and research and invest $500 million in mental health treatment.

“These steps are smart, reasonable and most important they will make a life and death difference for some children and their families,” Warren said. While the senior senator from Massachusetts said she’s proud of her home state’s tough gun control laws, Warren said nothing is stopping a Massachusetts resident today from going to a gun show in a state with weaker safety laws to buy a weapon and bring it home.

Warren, along with Congressman Seth Moulton from Salem and three other Congressional Democrats, joined White House advisor Valerie Jarrett on a conference call to promote the president’s actions aimed at reducing gun violence, which Jarrett said claims 30,000 lives every year.

Some Republicans, including GOP presidential contenders, have lashed out at Obama for overstepping his authority and infringing on the rights of lawful gun owners. U.S House Speaker Paul Ryan, in a statement Tuesday, predicted Obama’s actions would be challenged in court and overturned if the Republicans can reclaim the White House in 2016.

“From day one, the president has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding. He knows full well that the law already says that people who make their living selling firearms must be licensed, regardless of venue. Still, rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty,” Ryan said.

Warren said she hoped voters would make gun control a serious campaign issue. “If the Republican Party would rather work for the NRA than the American people – and if they won’t do their jobs to keep our children safe – then somebody else has to step up,” Warren said, later adding, “The president has opened that door and I hope the American people will walk through it.”

Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts Executive Director Jim Wallace told the News Service he’s still trying to separate the actions Obama plans to take from the president’s rhetoric.

“The biggest thing is we’re trying to figure out what it is he’s actually trying to accomplish because everything that he talked about as far as background checks and licensing already exists, so I’ve talked to my colleagues around the country and we’re all kind of scratching our heads,” Wallace said.

Wallace visited the State House on Wednesday for a meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker to discuss a provision of the 2014 state gun safety law that would allow the State Police to establish a dedicated criminal firearms and trafficking unit.

Though GOAL lobbied for that to be included in the gun bill, a lack of funding for the unit has prevented the State Police from establishing the team, Wallace said.

“We seriously need to get tough on the human criminal element. That’s what’s missing. Stop concerning yourself with the tools people are using,” Wallace said.

Baker said Tuesday that he supports any federal efforts to strengthen the existing background check system as well as Obama’s effort to improve the flow of mental health information between states and the federal government. Massachusetts connected for the first time in 2015 to the federal government’s mental health database for background checks as a result of the 2014 gun safety law.

Wallace said the mental health problem is one that needs to be addressed, but questions how much of a difference $500 million would make nationwide. He also raised serious concerns about smart gun trigger lock technology, which uses fingerprint recognition or other biometric information to prevent any unauthorized person from firing the weapon.

“Go ahead, research it. But that doesn’t mean it’s a product that people actually want,” Wallace said. “If the technology is that good, why doesn’t the Secret Service use it? Because they don’t want anything that has a chance to fail.”

The White House conference call to promote Obama’s executive actions came a day before the president is scheduled to take part in a town hall forum in Virginia on gun violence hosted by CNN.

“It’s deeply personal to the president to be part of the solution,” Jarrett said.

Moulton, who said the two guns he carried every day while serving as a Marine in Iraq saved his life, defended the president’s action as enforcement of existing laws and called it “ridiculous that America is the one developed country on earth that has this scourge of gun violence.”

He said Obama’s actions do not “absolve” Congress from taking its own actions.

Congressmen Joaquin Castro, Ruben Gallego and Patrick Murphy also joined the call.

— Written by Matt Murphy

Copyright State House News Service