Franklin D. Roosevelt railed against the dangers posed by “coldblooded shooting” in 1934. Lyndon B. Johnson urged Congress to “stop the trade in mail-order murder” in 1968. Gerald Ford said he wanted to “make it harder to obtain cheap guns for criminal purposes” in 1976.
The problem of gun violence has been mentioned in State of the Union speeches on and off for decades, but tonight President Obama is expected to use his address to make the biggest call for new gun control laws since Bill Clinton, who made it a repeated theme of his speeches. (After the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, Mr. Obama called for “working together,” not new gun laws.)
President Clinton called on Congress to pass the Brady bill, requiring background checks for many gun purchases, in his 1993 State of the Union address, urging lawmakers to “protect our families against the violent crime which terrorizes our people and which tears our communities apart.”
The following year Mr. Clinton called on Congress to ban assault weapons.
“I want to say something about this issue,’’ he said (LINK: ). “Hunters must always be free to hunt. Law-abiding adults should always be free to own guns and protect their homes. I respect that part of our culture; I grew up in it. But I want to ask the sportsmen and others who lawfully own guns to join us in this campaign to reduce gun violence. I say to you, I know you didn’t create this problem, but we need your help to solve it. There is no sporting purpose on earth that should stop the United States Congress from banishing assault weapons that out-gun police and cut down children.”
But some members of Congress paid a political price for those votes, as Mr. Clinton acknowledged in his 1995 speech, after Republicans won control of the House. “I don’t think it’s a secret to anybody in this room that several members of the last Congress who voted for that aren’t here tonight because they voted for it,’’ he said. “And I know, therefore, that some of you who are here because they voted for it are under enormous pressure to repeal it. I just have to tell you how I feel about it.”
“The members of Congress who voted for that bill and I would never do anything to infringe on the right to keep and bear arms to hunt and to engage in other appropriate sporting activities,’’ he said. “I’ve done it since I was a boy, and I’m going to keep right on doing it until I can’t do it anymore. But a lot of people laid down their seats in Congress so that police officers and kids wouldn’t have to lay down their lives under a hail of assault weapon attack, and I will not let that be repealed. I will not let it be repealed.”
In 1999 Mr. Clinton touted the bill’s success. “The Brady bill has stopped a quarter million felons, fugitives, and stalkers from buying handguns,’’ he said. “And now, the murder rate is the lowest in 30 years and the crime rate has dropped for six straight years.”