WASHINGTON —Louisiana’s congressional delegation responded in a partisan fashion to President Barack Obama’s gun control proposals Wednesday with the Republicans in staunch opposition and the two Democrats supporting at least portions of the package.
Obama proposed the largest gun control effort in 20 years — since the previous, now-expired assault weapons ban — to request universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
Specifically, Obama wants to limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds as was the case in the 1994 assault weapons ban.
The president’s plan also includes beefing up mental health services for students and young adults.
Obama also used his presidential powers to enact 23 measures that don’t require the backing of lawmakers.
The president’s executive actions include ordering federal agencies to make more data available for background checks; appointing a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., argued in defense of her “strong” support of Second Amendment rights.
“That said, last month’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has become all too familiar,” Landrieu said in a prepared statement. “We must find a way to balance our Second Amendment rights with the challenges of mental illness, criminal behavior and the safety of our schools and communities.”
Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said the primary focus should be on mental health issues and not gun control.
“The common thread in these crimes was untreated mental illness,” Cassidy said.
“Funding for mental illness is often misused and ineffective. If we are serious, this should be our focus,” he added.
But the other congressman who now serves Baton Rouge as well as neighborhoods along the Mississippi River into New Orleans, Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, said the gun control and mental health problems all need to be addressed.
“These senseless shootings must stop. Our actions moving forward will have a lasting impact on the safety of our families and communities, whether it’s in Colorado, Connecticut or Louisiana,” Richmond said.
The president, speaking at White House ceremony, focused his attention on the divided Congress, saying only lawmakers could enact the most effective measures for preventing more mass shootings.
“To make a real and lasting difference, Congress must act,” Obama said. “And Congress must act soon.”
The president vowed to use “whatever weight this office holds” to press lawmakers into action on his $500 million plan.
He also is calling for improvements in school safety, including putting 1,000 police officers in schools and bolstering mental health care by training more health professionals to deal with young people who may be at risk.
Even supportive lawmakers say the president’s gun control proposals — most of which are opposed by the powerful National Rifle Association — face long odds on Capitol Hill.
The office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was noncommittal to the president’s package of proposed legislation, but signaled no urgency to act.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said ahead of Obama’s presentation that he didn’t know whether an assault weapons ban could pass the Senate, but said there are some measures that can, such as improved background checks.
Acknowledging the tough fight ahead, Obama said there will be pundits, politicians and special interest groups that will seek to “gin up fear” that the White House wants to take away the right to own a gun.
“Any attempt by President Obama to take away the gun rights of law-abiding Americans will be met with strong bipartisan opposition in Congress,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson.
“President Obama has no business interjecting himself in the doctor-patient relationship by pressuring medical professionals to ask their patients what kind of guns they own in their homes. President Obama’s latest executive orders give new meaning to the term ‘house call,’ ” he added.
Likewise, Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, said he opposes any proposal that “tramples” on the Second Amendment.
“This proposal will not stop criminals from getting their hands on weapons and using them for harm. Instead, the suggested policy will punish law-abiding citizens by placing undue restrictions on valid activities involving firearms,” he said.
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal said in prepared statement released by his Press Office: “As a strong supporter of constitutional gun rights, I believe the president is wrong to use a school shooting to undermine the Second Amendment. … I support common-sense legislation that will protect our kids and keep guns out of the hands of the seriously mentally ill through enhanced mental health reporting standards.”
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Erica Werner, Ken Thomas and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.