Barack Obama’s plan to achieve gun control reform through executive actions had Republican candidates for president facing an awkward Sunday challenge: how to denounce a president for supporting something you once signed into law.
For New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the answer was an insult.
“This president is a petulant child,” he told Fox News Sunday. “Now this president wants to act as if he is a king, as if he is a dictator.”
Fox host Chris Wallace noted that Christie has previously supported tough gun laws . After a gunman killed 20 young children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, Christie signed into law 10 “ commonsense ” measures on gun control.
He also proposed a ban on .50 caliber rifles and criticized the National Rifle Association. The NRA has given him mediocre marks and snubbed him at a prominent event last year, even though he eventually vetoed the rifle ban.
“I haven’t changed my tune,” Christie said before boasting that he had banned gun purchases for people on the terror watch list. Obama has proposed a national version ofthe same ban . In December, the Republican-led Senate rejected it .
“As president, I would make sure that the terror watch list was actually accurate,” Christie said.
Obama’s methods, more than his ideas, were what Christie said were troubling.
“If he wants to make changes to these laws,” he said, “go to Congress and convince Congress they’re necessary. But this is going to be another illegal executive action which I’m sure will be rejected by the courts.”
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, meanwhile, accused Obama of setting a “quite dangerous” precedent with executive actions.
Like Christie, Bush once signed a law whose rationale was identical to an idea now proposed by the president. One of Obama’s expected actions would make it harder for people convicted of domestic abuse to acquire guns. Bush signed a ban on such gun sales in Florida. On Fox News Sunday, he mentioned that law as proof he was tough on crime.
But Bush then said the notorious gun show loophole, through which anyone can buy a gun at a show or online without a license or background check, so long as they do not sell guns en masse, “doesn’t exist”.
“People who want to occasionally sell guns ought to be able to do so,” he said.
While running for office in the late 1990s, Bush supported a statewide law for instant background checks at gun shows.
“A simple rule would simply say that anybody that buys a gun at a gun show should get an instant background check,” he said in a 1998 debate . “And so you would take out the criminals.”
On Sunday he rejected such a proposal, saying a “top-down” approach to guns would not “create freedom”. He also trotted out his pro-gun bona fides, mentioning that he once received an award from actor and NRA icon Charlton Heston.
Even the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, has political baggage on the issue. On Sunday, CBS aired an interview in which the real estate billionaire repeated his promise to veto all new regulation of firearms, should he win the presidency.
Obama’s planned new executive actions on gun control – which follow nearly two dozen such actions since 2012 – are an “assault on the second amendment”, Trump said.
Obama “can’t do that”, Trump said of the president’s hopes to enforce background checks on sales that are not currently monitored.
“I will veto that. I will unsign that so fast, so fast,” he said.
Fifteen years ago, in the aftermath of the Columbine high school shooting and an election that debated gun control , Trump was not quite so adamant that all gun regulation was wrong.
“I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,” he wrote in his book The America We Deserve . He even hinted that more checks were necessary to cope with online sales, as Obama has proposed.
“With today’s internet technology,” Trump wrote, “we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record.”
On the Democratic ticket, Senator Bernie Sanders, who has a history of voting against some gun control regulations , said he supported Obama’s proposals.
“Gun safety issues are very, very controversial,” he told CNN, “but I think most gun owners in this country understand that people who should not own guns should not be able to buy them.”
He expressed particular support for background checks for gun shows and online sales.
“I don’t think that’s an onerous burden on anybody,” he said.
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