President Barack Obama sought to engender popular support for his gun reform proposals announced Wednesday by fighting critics on their own linguistic turf—framing them in terms of freedom.
Many of the president's detractors have long felt his domestic agenda includes tearing apart individual freedoms, particularly the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
A letter circulated by the National Rifle Association during a gun conference in Las Vegas Wednesday said the White House's series of meetings with outside groups to listen and discuss possible gun reform measures was a "lie."
"They didn't listen to gun owners' concerns," wrote Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Post. "They didn't consider any real solutions on how we can keep our kids safe. Instead Barack Obama, Joe Biden and their gun ban allies in Congress only want to BLAME you, VILIFY you, BULLY you and STRIP you of your Second Amendment freedoms."
This attitude is also widely reflected in the conservative online community, with countless blog writers expressing their concerns that Obama seeks to limit their access to guns in order to prevent a revolution and compare him to Stalin, Hitler or Castro.
"The administration's intent could not be more clear," writes Tom Blumer in an entry for Frontpagemag.com. "It wants to bureaucratically create a de facto repeal of as much of the Second Amendment's clearly stated and correctly interpreted individual 'right of the people to keep and bear Arms' as possible by Jan. 20, 2017 — and if that requires shredding what's left of the Constitution's separation of powers, so be it."
But Wednesday, Obama also turned to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to support his case for gun reform, which includes calling on Congress to enact an assault weapons ban and universal background checks.
"This is the land of the free and it always will be," he said. "As Americans, we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights that no man or government can take away from us. But we've also long recognized as our founders recognized that with rights come responsibilities."
The president said along with individual freedom "an obligation to allow others to do the same."
"We don't live in isolation. We live in a society; a government of and by and for the people. We are responsible for each other," Obama said. "We have the right to worship freely and safely—that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisc. The right to assemble peaceably—that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Ore., and moviegoers in Aurora, Colo."
He pointed to shootings over the last 15 years and highlighted how gunman had infringed on victims' government promised rights.
"That most fundamental set of rights – the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—fundamental rights that were denied to college students in Virginia Tech and high school students in Columbine and elementary school students in Newtown and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate," Obama said. "And all the families who never imagined they'd lose a loved one to a bullet. Those rights are at stake. We're responsible."
It's not likely the president's pitch will make a difference to his most ardent opponents, but by trying to reframe the debate—from one about infringing freedom to supporting freedom—he may be able to work those in the middle.