Right to Arms: Activists Square off in Gun Debate

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WASHINGTON - In the wake of the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., President Obama is breaking his silence on gun control - something that has both sides of the debate gearing up for a fight. 

Following the tragedy, the president acknowledged in an Arizona newspaper column Americans' Second Amendment right to bear arms.

"The fact is, almost all gun owners in America are highly responsible," Obama wrote. "They're our friends and neighbors. They buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for hunting or target shooting, collection or protection."

Still, Obama called for better enforcement of gun laws already on the books.

Specifically, he wants to strengthen the National Instant Background Check System (NICS), run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, by rewarding states that provide the best data and making the system work faster.  

But instead of pacifying everyone, the president's words only have inflamed passions on both sides of the debate.

Obama Gets 'F' on Gun Control

"I was just happy that the president finally was saying something about gun violence in this country," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Nevertheless, the Brady Campaign recently gave the president an "F" for not making good on campaign promises to address gun violence on America's streets.

After the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, Congress passed incentives for states to provide more data to the background check system. But they never fully funded the program.
           
"This is one of the things I think most people don't realize," Helmke said. "States are not required to send in any names. They're not required to send in names of felons. They're not required to send in names of people who are dangerously mentally ill."

Protecting the 'Good Guys'
           
However, Jared Laughner, the man who opened fire at a Tucson supermarket, killing 13 people and injuring six, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., would not have been flagged under any existing category on the background check. 

Even if he was on the list of prohibited buyers, he still could have found a way to buy a gun.
           
"I'm not going to apologize for saying with absolute certainty that, in the face of the violent criminals in this country that prey on people every day, the Second Amendment is all the good guys have. And every day it saves lives," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.
           
He suggested the administration direct U.S. attorneys to get tougher on street criminals instead of consistently favoring big, headline-grabbing cases.
           
"When a felon walks into a gun store, tries to buy a gun and is turned down, you prosecute him," LaPierre said. "You don't let him walk out the store."

"I mean that's like Bonnie and Clyde," he continued. "You let Clyde walk into a gun store, the instant check turns him up as a felon so they turn down the sale."

"Clyde walks home and tells Bonnie: 'I got good news and bad news. The bad news is they didn't sell me the gun. The good news is it let me go,'" he said.

Tougher Gun Control
            
Some members of Congress want to take gun restrictions a step further than the president.

Legislation has been introduced to ban high capacity ammunition magazines, those that contain 30 rounds or more. 

Supporters of the measure say that if shooters like Laughner had to stop to reload after 10 rounds, as opposed to 31, then lives can be been saved.
           
"He (Laughner) was stopped from shooting, not by the police, not by somebody else with a gun; he was stopped when he ran out of bullets in that magazine. That's when he was tackled," said Helmke, who supports the legislation.
           
However, LaPierre said, "You look at these ranchers on the border down in Arizona right now with these drug cartels coming over the border. They ought to have any type of magazine they chose to own."
           
One thing is certain: As Giffords continues her miraculous recovery and her shooter Laughner moves through the criminal justice system, the issue will continue to make headlines and capture the attention of Congress. 

Both sides of the debate are ready.

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Jennifer Wishon

CBN News White House Correspondent

Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.