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January 17, 2013

Some local opinions veer against President Obama's gun control proposal

JACKSONVILLE —

President Barack Obama's Wednesday press conference was the shot heard around the world – figuratively speaking.

Using last month's Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as a catapult, the president introduced his proposals for lessening gun violence in America.

He pledged to use "whatever weight this office holds" to force Congress to support his $500 million plan. It includes – by his definition – closing background check loopholes; banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, taking other "common-sense steps" to reduce gun violence, making schools safer; and strengthening mental health care in America.

Congress, not too happy about the idea, was asked by the president to pass bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Universal background checks were also urged.

During the ceremony at the White House, the President used his authority as chief executive to exact 23 measures that didn't need the support of Congress to go into effect. They included appointing a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,  directing the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence, and ordering federal agencies to make more data available for background checks.

The president also called for lawmakers to enact improvements to school safety. This entails putting 1,000 police officers in schools.  

But his plan was not universally well-received – especially in Texas. Republican Congressman Steve Stockman (R-Tex.), for example, threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president should he implement new gun regulations through executive action.

Cherokee County Sheriff James E. Campbell said Wednesday he had not had a chance to review the information in the president's press conference and declined comment. But Jacksonville Police Chief Reece Daniel did not mince words.

"Gun control does not work," Daniel said in an email. "If it did, Chicago and Washington D.C. would have no violent crime. In fact, while having some of the most draconian guns laws in the U.S., both cities have a higher murder and robbery rate than most other cities."

Chief Daniel said he is a Constitutionalist and believes in the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms without interference from the government.

"Nothing I saw in the President's unilateral action today will deter criminals but will interfere with law abiding citizens' rights under the Second Amendment," Daniel said. "In short, it was Washington politics as usual and will do nothing to solve gun crime."

District 11 State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, agreed the mental health issue needs to be looked into but indicated he also is in strong opposition to the gun control proposals.

"We will not stand for or go along with any infringement on the Second Amendment," Clardy said through a spokesman. "But in terms of fixing mental health, we agree that something needs to be done and a discussion on mental health is worth having."

The thrust toward addressing mental illness struck a chord with many social media columnists.

"Yes, let's do discuss improving mental healthcare in America. Let's start with people suffering from massive paranoia about President Obama and the federal government," wrote Annabel Park, the director-producer of Story of America: A Nation Divided, on the Huffington Post.

The National Rifle Association fell under criticism Wednesday for an ad criticizing President Obama's allowing his children to be protected by Secret Service officers with guns while making it impossible through gun control for other parents to do the same.

In a posted response to the president’s press conference on the NRA's national website, Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, contended  his organization, throughout its history, has led efforts to promote safety and responsible gun ownership.

"Keeping our children and society safe remains our top priority," he wrote. "The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. … We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America's most valuable asset – our children."

Starting locally and echoing loudly across Texas and the continental United States, the Internet reaction to the gun control press conference was loud and varied.

"I'm pretty sure there are laws against what I got to say,"  area resident Melody Walters commented in an FB post.

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