By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — As the White House seeks ways that President Barack Obama could legally tighten restrictions on gun ownership, including closure of the so-called gun show loophole, he met Friday with Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman severely wounded in a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011 in which six people were killed.
The meeting with Giffords and her husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who advocate for tougher gun safety laws, was part of the Obama administration’s ongoing dialogue “with those who share the president’s passion for taking some common-sense steps to make it harder for those with bad intentions to get their hands on guns,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
“The administration has worked closely with some of these outside groups to amplify the call of people across the country, so that members of Congress can be responsive to those public priorities,” Earnest added.
Obama renewed his push for tighter gun control after the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon in October that killed nine, as well as the gunman. Earnest said Friday that administration officials “have cast a wide net” in exploring possible actions the president could take in using executive authority to limit access to guns, but he declined to specify what was being considered and how soon Obama might announce any plan.
The leading proposal under consideration, according to White House officials, is a reinterpretation of existing law to require all or most people trying to buy guns to submit to background checks. Licensed firearms dealers must conduct background checks, but those who make “occasional sales” are exempt from the requirement, including sales at gun shows.
Such background checks might not have altered the path taken by the shooters behind Wednesday’s massacre in San Bernardino, Calif. Federal officials have concluded that Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two assailants, legally bought two of the weapons, and two others were likewise legally purchased and given to him by a friend.
The idea for tighter background checks was one of several suggested by gun safety advocates in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., three years ago this month, though it wasn’t part of final recommendations by Vice President Joe Biden, who led the White House effort to restrict access to guns.
“I don’t know if they felt they didn’t want to do it or couldn’t do it for legal reasons,” said Jim Kessler of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, who was in regular consultations with the administration during the deliberations. “It just didn’t happen.”
A bill to strengthen the background check system died in the Senate a few months after the Newtown rampage.
On Friday, Earnest blasted Senate Republicans who voted a day earlier to block several gun-related measures that Democrats had offered as amendments to a health care bill, including the bipartisan background check proposal that also failed to pass in 2013.
With their votes, Republicans “stood up once again with the (National Rifle Association) and in the face of common sense,” Earnest said.
Obama’s meeting with Americans for Responsible Solutions, which was not on his publicly released schedule, came on a day when he otherwise stayed out of the public eye.
The FBI announced Friday that it was investigating the shooting rampage in San Bernardino as an act of terrorism.
In comments to reporters before the FBI announcement, Earnest declined to comment on reports that Tashfeen Malik, who died in a police shootout after she and Farook, her husband, killed 14 at a holiday party for the San Bernardino County Health Department, had pledged allegiance to Islamic State on Facebook.
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File photo: Chesterfield County Sheriff’s lieutenant David Lee removes rifles from a shipping container as he and other officers sort through thousands of guns found in the home and garage of Brent Nicholson, in Pageland, South Carolina, November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Miczek