By Michael O’Brien - The Hill - January 19, 2010
President Barack Obama on Monday received a failing grade from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for running away from gun control.
The group, which endorsed Obama in 2008, gave him an “F” on every issue it scored, including background checks, gun trafficking, guns in public, the federal assault weapons ban, standing up to the gun lobby and leadership.
“It’s been a very disappointing year for us, especially considering what he campaigned on,” the group’s president, Paul Helmke, said during an appearance on MSNBC.
When Obama was elected, gun rights supporters feared the new president would take away their guns; their worries spiked gun sales in the days and weeks before Obama’s inauguration. The National Rifle Association (NRA) said Obama would be the most anti-gun president in U.S. history.
But the Brady Campaign, a leading advocacy group for stricter gun laws, said Obama actually has done little to clamp down on firearms since being elected. Instead, the president has signed into law two bills that favored gun-rights supporters.
“This year they ran away from the issue, and actually signed two repeals of good gun legislation,” said Helmke.
Obama signed legislation this year that would allow guns in national parks and on Amtrak trains.
The two gun measures were attached as amendments to larger pieces of legislation — a bill cracking down on credit card companies and a transportation appropriations bill, respectively — that the president generally supported.
A spokesman for the White House did not directly respond to the Brady Campaign’s criticism in an e-mail. He said Obama supports and respects the Second Amendment, and defended the administration, saying it had taken “common-sense steps” to keep streets safe and stem the flow of illegal guns.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt pointed to the administration’s work to stanch the flow of firearms across the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as its efforts to change the law to enhance investigations into illegal gun trafficking. He said the $787 billion economic stimulus bill and the 2010 budget funded billions for police officers.
“The Recovery Act and the administration’s 2010 budget included a major investment in law enforcement, including billions in funding for communities to hire police officers and to improve their ability to fight crime,” LaBolt said.
Gun rights supporters flexed their muscles several times this year in Congress. Aside from the two bills signed by Obama, gun rights groups also blocked legislation to give District of Columbia residents a vote in the U.S. House by attaching an amendment to repeal D.C.’s handgun ban.
Many Democrats from states carried by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 support gun rights and value grades they receive from the NRA.
That atmosphere in Congress likely made it difficult for the administration to take on gun rights supporters.
For example, the administration backed off signals by Attorney General Eric Holder that it would seek to reinstate an assault-rifle ban that had expired.
“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,” the attorney general said at the time.
Two months later, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs walked back the pledge.
“The president believes there are other strategies we can take to enforce the laws that are already on our books,” Gibbs said.
Helmke said that the Obama administration hadn’t yet reached out to the gun control group, and that he doesn’t expect the White House to do so anytime soon.
He also criticized the administration for backing off campaign promises on guns, including the ban on assault rifles.
The Brady Campaign’s report card, and its leader’s critical remarks, come as Obama faces criticism from a number of liberal groups that say the president has ceded too much ground to centrists and Republicans during the healthcare debate. Liberals also have criticized Obama for increasing troop levels in Afghanistan.
Groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) have run ads in the midst of the healthcare debate chiding Obama and some Democrats in Congress for having agreed to drop a public health insurance option. And members of Obama’s own party have bucked the president by opposing funding for the president’s troop surge in Afghanistan.