How Obama Put a Silencer on His Support for an Assault Weapons Ban

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In the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I thought the below piece I wrote over two years ago deserved reposting. By the way, I would add that after the Gabby Giffords assassination attempt, the president disappointed gun-control advocates by not using the moment to address gun violence with specific and forceful policies, such as an assault weapons ban.

Obama Puts a Silencer on Assault Weapons Ban

—By

| Fri May. 21, 2010

When Mexican President Felipe Calderon addressed the US Congress on Thursday, he called for the United States to reinstate the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 under the Bush administration. Calderon noted that a ban on these weapons, which are flowing south across the border to violent drug cartels, could help Mexico reduce the horrific violence that has seized parts of that country.

Calderon might be forgiven for assuming that this would be a reasonable request to make to the Obama administration. While campaigning for the presidency, candidate Barack Obama backed permanently reinstating the ban. After he assumed office, his administration quickly announced it would proceed on this front. On February 25, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder declared,

As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.

Holder specifically noted that resurrecting the ban would reduce the number of guns pouring into Mexico and fueling the violence there.

Compare Holder’s unequivocal statement to how the White House these days addresses the matter. Hours after Calderon’s appearance on Capitol Hill, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about this issue. Here’s the full exchange:

Q: Robert, speaking of President Calderón, this morning in his address to Congress, he asked lawmakers to reinstate the assault weapons ban, something the President has supported in the past.  Does the President still support that and does he plan to lean on Congress to make progress?

GIBBS:  I would — because the President largely got asked this question yesterday about both drugs and weapons moving across the border, I’d point you to the answer that he gave about increased inspections on cargo that’s moving from the north to the south.

You know the rest. At Obama’s joint press conference with Calderon the previous day, this is what the president said,

Through increased law enforcement on our side of the border, we’re putting unprecedented pressure on those who traffic in drugs, guns, and people.  We’re working to stem the southbound flow of American guns and money, which is why, for the first time, we are now screening 100 percent of southbound rail cargo.

Nothing about an assault weapons ban. A Mexican journalist followed up and asked Obama, “Shouldn’t there be an initiative that will regulate guns as they are sold? Is there going to be a ban?” Obama again talked about interdiction efforts and didn’t address the assault weapons ban.

Not only will the White House not make good on candidate Obama’s promise to revive the ban or Holder’s announced decision to do so, it won’t even talk about the assault weapons ban. Not a word. The reason is obvious: Obama and his aides don’t want to spark a backlash from the NRA and voters who cling to their guns—especially as Democrats ride toward a difficult mid-term election. On this dicey topic, Obama cares most about ducking a political bullet.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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