Gun control takes center stage

When President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, gun violence will be center stage, both literally and politically.

The White House and Democratic lawmakers have invited more than 30 shooting victims or their surviving family members and friends to attend Obama’s speech, including several people tied to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), severely wounded in a Jan. 2011 shooting, will be there. And first lady Michelle Obama will be accompanied by the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago teenager shot to death last month, shortly after she took part in the inaugural parade.

“These people by their presence will send a message more powerful than any words from me or my colleagues,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “I think that picture will be worth a thousand words. And when the president looks to the gallery, sees the faces and voices of victims it will powerfully reinforce his message that we need to do something about gun violence.”

On the other side of the issue, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), reelected to Congress last year after one term in the mid-1990s, is bringing musician Ted Nugent. The one-time rock star has become an outspoken critic of the president, especially over gun control.
(Also on POLITICO: Stockman: Obama’s No. 1 needler)

Obama has pushed for new gun-control measures since the December shooting in Newton, which left 20 children and six adults dead. The president is expected to renew his call for a ban on assault weapons and restrictions of high-capacity ammunition magazines, two measures strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association and its allies on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), confined to a wheelchair since being hurt in an accidental shooting when he was a teenager, has led the effort by House Democrats to bring gun-violence victims to Tuesday’s address. Langevin aides said 23 House offices are participating in the effort. The Democrats will also hold a press conference Tuesday with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the organization, backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is pouring tens of millions of dollars into the political struggle over gun control.

Also Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a close Obama ally, chaired a subcommittee hearing in the Judiciary Committee on reducing gun violence while “respecting the Second Amendment,” focusing on current gun trafficking laws and proposals to strengthen them.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is planning to mark up a gun control bill later this month. A big question remain whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will offer her proposal to ban assault weapons during that session.

Feinstein, who became mayor of San Francisco in 1978 following the shooting death of Mayor George Moscone, is weighing whether to offer the proposal in committee or to wait until Leahy’s bill reaches the Senate floor, an option favored by Democratic leaders and her colleagues facing reelection in 2014 in red states where the NRA is strong.

Democratic leaders, thus far, have thrown their support to a universal background check proposal, which would require such reviews on all gun sales, including private transactions. The NRA also opposes this measure, and GOP leaders have not said whether they will back in on Senate floor or in the House.

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