Lawmakers react to gun bill

Spokesman Review - Kip Hill

WASHINGTON – Inland Northwest lawmakers gave mixed reviews to President Barack Obama’s gun control proposals unveiled Wednesday.

Washington’s Democratic senators lauded the $500 million package of proposals as the right move at the right time. Republican lawmakers questioned the reach of Obama’s plans and whether they’d have the desired effect on violent crime.

Sen. Patty Murray co-sponsored the original assault weapons ban that Obama recommended be reinstated and bolstered. She also voted in favor of 1994’s Brady Handgun Bill that beefed up criminal background checks on gun buyers.

Murray praised Obama’s proposals for encompassing two sources of gun violence.

“The president has put forward a series of sensible steps that will not only help to keep guns out of the wrong hands and off our streets, but that also address many of the mental health concerns that have led isolated individuals to carry out mass atrocities,” Murray said in a statement.

Sen. Maria Cantwell joined her Washington state colleague in praising the president’s recommendations.

“Senator Cantwell applauds President Obama’s efforts to close gun purchase loopholes and to create new tools for further background checks,” spokesman Jared Leopold said. Cantwell also wants to see a more detailed response to the challenges presented by mental illness and a comprehensive approach to dealing with school safety, he said.

Both Democratic lawmakers admitted gun control would be a difficult political issue but said the time was right for addressing the problem.

House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said a multifaceted approach to curbing gun violence should be explored and that House committees would be reviewing the president’s recommendations.

“We should focus on every opportunity to make our schools and families safer to prevent tragedies like Newtown,” said McMorris Rodgers, who represents Eastern Washington.

Other Republican members of the Inland Northwest delegation had sharper words for the president’s proposals.

In remarks, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo called the plan “very disappointing” and chided Obama for his decision to enact many of the policies through executive action, without congressional approval.

“Burdening law-abiding citizens of this country with additional gun restrictions is not the answer to safeguarding the public from further attacks,” Crapo said.

As a member of the U.S. House, Crapo voted against the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Crapo’s colleague, Sen. Jim Risch, agreed that circumventing debate through executive action on gun control was a mistake.

“I am troubled by the continuing efforts of this president to legislate by executive order when his responsibility under the Constitution is to execute laws enacted by the legislative branch,” Risch said in a statement.

Rep. Raul Labrador, whose congressional district includes North Idaho, said a close look was needed at Obama’s proposals to ensure they don’t infringe on Second Amendment rights.

“Despite the shameful use of children today to drive his agenda, I will carefully review the president’s executive actions and his legislative proposals,” Labrador said in a statement.

Rep. Doc Hastings, whose district includes Central Washington, lobbied for a bill to allow loaded guns in national parks that eventually passed Congress with bipartisan support in 2009. At the time, he was ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, a group he now chairs.

Hastings echoed the president’s concern about opportunities for mental health care to stop perpetrators of mass shootings, but said tragedies such as Newtown should not be cause to punish law-abiding gun owners.

McMorris Rodgers, Hastings, Labrador, Crapo and Risch have all earned high marks from the National Rifle Association.

The wrangle over gun control enters a Congress preoccupied with debt discussion. Obama on Wednesday called on Americans to urge their lawmakers to bring his recommendations to a vote.