President Obama's next campaign - against the gun lobby

President Barack Obama signs executive orders on gun violence flanked by children who wrote him letters 16 January 2013 President Obama marshaled the rhetorical power of child letter-writers in the statement

President Barack Obama called on Americans, from parents and teachers, to hunters and sportsmen, to say "enough".

He talked of a little girl, Grace, gunned down at Newtown, who loved the colour pink and the beach. A picture she drew now hangs in his private study.

The audience included parents of the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Alongside him were children who had written to their president urging him to do something about the shootings.

If it seemed like a campaign speech, it was.

Campaign techniques

Conviction politicians campaign to win elections as a means to an end. That end is bringing about change. This time, Mr Obama isn't making the mistake of allowing the massive organisational operation that allowed him to win an election to go to sleep when the real job begins.

It is not just about TV props such as being surrounded by kids. It is about motivating grass-roots groups, bringing campaigners together, using the infrastructure of the election campaign to co-ordinate and organise.

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These moves may seem small-bore compared to gun laws in many other countries but they are a very big deal here”

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The reason the president needs to use all the techniques of a campaign to get public opinion on his side is that powerful forces, representing many Americans, fear such changes are a danger to their country's basic values.

The battle over guns is part of a bigger war. But it is one that will last for years and could partly define the mid-term elections in 2014 and possibly the 2016 presidential race as well.

Many Americans may not be aware of it, but the scale of gun violence is one of the things that defines their country's image abroad.

Many in Britain and elsewhere in Europe simply don't understand America's reluctance to impose more restrictions on firearms.

They regard the argument that more guns mean more safety as the politics of the madhouse.

But it is not just the view from abroad. There is a gulf of incomprehension between the two sides in America too.

'The essential freedom'

The president wants to ban what he calls "weapons of war" and magazines that can hold many bullets.

Customers shop at the Guns-R-Us gun shop in Phoenix, Arizona, 20 December 2012 Guns sales have reportedly spiked since the Newtown shooting

He wants to make everyone buying a gun go through a background check. At the moment an estimated 40% of all gun purchases take place without a background check, because they occur between a buyer and a private seller, rather than a licensed firearms dealer.

He wants to lift a ban into government research into gun violence.

These moves may seem small-bore compared to gun laws in many other countries, but they are a very big deal here, and it is hard to see how the ban on assault rifles will get past Republican (and indeed some Democratic) opposition in Congress.

Gun owners I speak to aren't putting it on. They feel genuinely bewildered and believe that their rights as honest and law-abiding citizens will be restricted if the president gets his way.

America's relationship with guns is complex and divided. The opposition to new rules is not just the pragmatic objection of hunters and sport-shooters. For some, it is based on the fundamental belief that gun ownership is the essential freedom upon which all other freedoms rest.

President Obama knows this will be a long, hard battle, part of his determination aggressively to take on American conservatives and brand them as wild-eye opponents of common sense, acting against the interests of their country.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    #326 etc - sieuarlu

    Many of sieuarlu's posts to this forum have been, frankly, rather daft. But he makes a good overall point - UK criticisms of the US seem strange when British society is so disfunctional. Look at the series of Pakistani paedophile cases in the UK - the UK authorities are clearly hampered by pc & not protecting the most vulnerable children. As bad as anything in the US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    335. USSilentMajority
    The only reason the Repugs still control the House is because of extreme gerrymandering by Repug controlled State legislatures. The total votes cast for Democratic House members exceeded that of Repugs.

    Curious how you believe all those who disagree with you are gov employees. You not qualified for one of those cushy gov jobs? :-(
    Is that what's bothering you bunky?

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    Take away the right to bear arms. Take away all pistols and multiple-shot rifles and shotguns. Make owning any single shot rifle or shotgun expensive and difficult. In time (it will take years) criminals and psychopaths wont have access to guns. Why not do it? Because Americans still like their right to own guns more than they dislike gun violence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Today, US "bewildered"

    Self-defence gun policy should be indirect: let them rust, be recycled, disappear into museums

    Reality obliged US to revisit 1781 Articles of Confederation. Equally urgent need now to rationalise current Constitution

    Next Convention to face challenges of Mammon, fundamentalism, the division of humanity by fear & greed

    Against all elitism, not just inter-state

    Tom Paine

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    332. DavidinUSA Being ironic again.....

    So do you think there is a positive correlation between those who think Keynesian economics make sense and those who think fewer guns would lead to fewer gun deaths?


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