Teachers praise president’s gun control agenda

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WASHINGTON - Leaders of the nation's two teachers unions praised President Obama and lawmakers who have unveiled comprehensive gun control proposals. But while they pledged the unions' backing for the plans, especially since teachers and their kids were the victims of the mass murder in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school last month, the administration, lawmakers, and the unions face an uphill fight for their ideas.

That's because the politically potent and powerful National Rifle Association, the feared "gun lobby," is unalterably opposed to any and all gun control measures. Indeed, NRA looms so large over the political landscape that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., thinks one key Obama proposal, an assault weapons ban, is unlikely.

The proposals, and the comments from National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel and American Federation of Teachers President (AFT) Randi Weingarten are direct results from last month's massacre in Newtown.  There, a gunman stole weapons from his mother's house, killed her, then went to the school and murdered 20 children and five other adults.

The murders, at a rapid rate with a reloading ammo clip, prompted the Obama administration to convene a task force to draft gun-control measures, which the president unveiled on Jan. 16. The murders also led the NRA to advocate arming every teacher in every classroom - an idea both Van Roekel and Weingarten denounced.

They had quite different reactions to both Obama's and lawmakers' proposals. Those plans include the assault weapons ban and limits on such high-rate ammo clips. Obama also announced 23 executive actions he will take to control weapons.  Those moves don't need Congress' OK.

"America's duty is to provide safe and secure public schools for every child, and the reasonable gun violence-prevention legislation by Reps. Carolyn McCarthy and Diana DeGette will go a long way to make that a reality," said Weingarten, a New Yorker like McCarthy. "Every parent, every educator and every child should feel schools are safe, secure environments."

The two Democrats' legislation includes a ban on producing and selling the high-capacity ammo clips, such as the one the Newtown murderer used.   Other lawmakers advocate reinstating the assault weapons ban, which a prior GOP-run Congress let lapse more than a decade ago.

Though Reid, Weingarten and Van Roekel did not say so, the pro-gun rifle group's political clout is the reason for Reid's gloomy outlook on the assault weapon ban, and others.  NRA also opposes restricting gun magazines, gun registration and every other anti-gun measure.  And its three million members - a number equal to that of Van Roekel's NEA - vote solely on whether a candidate is pro- or anti-gun.

 "Large-capacity ammunition magazines are not designed for hunting or for self-defense," said Weingarten, whose union has more than 1.1 million members.  "They are designed to shoot mass numbers of people quickly without reloading. They should be banned, and this measure and other reasonable gun violence-prevention measures must be a priority" for lawmakers."

The NEA sent Vice President Biden's gun control task force a comprehensive list of recommendations for federal moves against gun violence, and released a poll showing overwhelming parent support for moves to reduce the potential for mass murders and to keep guns out of U.S. schools. The poll and recommendations are on NEA's website.

"The senseless tragedy in Newtown was a tipping point and galvanization for action," Van Roekel said.  "As educators, we have grieved too long and too often -- for the children killed, their families and the heroic educators who gave their lives trying to protect their students.  Now more than ever we need to do what is necessary to make sure every child in public schools has a safe and secure learning environment.

Obama and Biden "present concrete, bold steps to keep children safe and begin addressing gun violence in America," the NEA leader continued.  "The common-sense recommendations...are an important first step toward keeping children safe, providing more support for students and educators, and keeping military-style weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them."

Both unions also said that the problem isn't just guns, but providing mental health services to have educators, families and professionals "can identify problems and intervene before it's too late," as Van Roekel said.

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

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