WEST HARTFORD — With Connecticut lawmakers and the families of Newtown’s victims standing behind him, President Barack Obama addressed a packed gymnasium at the University of Hartford on Monday evening, describing his vision of “common-sense” national gun reforms.
The president traveled to Connecticut just days after the state passed a historically sweeping gun-control package, including an expanded assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazines, a universal background check system and a requirement to possess a license in order to buy ammunition. Obama pointed to the Connecticut law as a national example, highlighting each of its provisions as possibilities for part of a national gun-control bill that will be debated in Congress this week. He called on the 3,000-person crowd — many of whom sported green ribbons in memory of the victims at Sandy Hook — to continue the momentum of gun-control advocacy so that substantive federal legislation might have a chance of passing.
“I know many of you in Newtown wondered if the rest of us would live up to the promises we made in those dark days, if we’d change too — or if once the television trucks left, once the candles flickered out, once the teddy bears were gathered up, your country would move on to other things,” Obama said. “Newtown, we want you to know that we’re here with you.”
In the first part of his 27-minute speech, Obama listed the proposals he would want to see in an ideal national gun bill — lingering most on a universal background check system, as polls show over 90 percent of Americans support that measure.
Democratic leaders in the Senate pulled several controversial measures, such as an assault weapons ban and a limit on the size of magazines, out of the Senate’s gun-control bill after realizing that they could not secure the votes to get the bill passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate, much less the Republican-controlled House. The bill now before Congress still contains a universal background check system as well as tighter regulations on gun trafficking and the act of legally purchasing a gun for a person not authorized to own one.
“There’s no one solution — there’s no one panacea. No state can [regulate gun violence] alone because illegal trafficking has no respect for state borders,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 said in an interview with the News on Monday. “But a comprehensive strategy can help save lives. And just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean that we should do nothing.”
Blumenthal said he plans to introduce an amendment this week to reinsert a ban on magazines containing more than 10 rounds. He added that another senator will reintroduce an assault weapons ban, which he will support. He declined to speculate whether he thinks these measures would pass the Senate, saying that senators know “in their hearts” the right thing to do.
In the latter part of his speech, Obama warned the crowd that, though a majority of the country supports the proposals being discussed, many of their congressmen and senators would vote against such measures for fear of losing favor with the powerful gun lobby.
“Some back in Washington are already floating the idea that they might use political stunts to prevent votes on any of these reforms,” Obama said. “They’re not just saying they’ll vote ‘no’ on ideas that almost all Americans support. They’re saying they won’t allow any votes on them at all. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter.”
At that moment, reminiscent of the president’s own words that “Newtown deserves a vote,” the entire gym erupted into cheers of, “We want a vote! We want a vote!” Connecticut Sens. Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both vocal supporters of a sweeping federal gun-control package similar to the one passed in their state, could be seen moving through the crowd, shaking hands with audience members. Outside, supporters waved signs that read “Stop the violence” and “Pray for Newtown.”
Unlike most other gun-themed rallies in the state this year, Obama’s speech at the University of Hartford did not appear to draw an organized protest.
Still, several local residents came to express discontent at Obama’s message. Craig Bentley, a Connecticut resident and a graduating senior at the University of Hartford, said that the president’s presence demanded an answer. So he arrived at the event wrapped in a yellow flag with a snake and the words “Don’t tread on me” and wearing a shirt bearing the legend “I plead the Second.”
“I felt compelled to come, and I wanted to make a statement showing how I feel in a civil, respectful way, to show that I think the recent passing of the assault weapons ban in Connecticut is unconstitutional,” he said.
New York, Colorado and Maryland have passed gun-control packages similar to the one Connecticut passed on Thursday.