WASHINGTON — Mike Rawlings, mayor of Dallas and gun owner, is endorsing the president’s demand for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. He’s especially keen on universal background checks for gun buyers.
“We already say we can’t own Stinger rockets. So the question is where does the line go? And the line being at semi-automatics is the right place,” Rawlings said Friday over breakfast two blocks from the White House. “The proposals that the president has put on the table are solid, and I support them. … We’re going to have to throw everything against the wall.”
Common sense suggests when it comes to preventing massacres such as the one in Newtown, Conn., last month, this is no time to be an “ideologue,” Rawlings said.
He embraces the holistic approach outlined by President Barack Obama last this week: attention to mental health and education, to violence in movies and video games, and also to weapons themselves.
“There’s no question that guns play a part of that,” Rawlings said.
“The big headline for me after Newtown was really coming to the realization that our culture of violence has gotten way out of line, way out of hand,” referring to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary that left 20 children and a half-dozen educators dead.
The crackdown on weapons proposed by Obama and the task force led by Vice PresidentJoe Biden has drawn a fierce pushback from the National Rifle Association and its allies, including many Republicans in Congress from Texas. Rawlings doubts that his support — expressed between meetings at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering — will change that.
“People have got their minds made up. All I’m speaking for are the citizens of Dallas,” he said.
Many will surely disagree. Texas is a hotbed of gun ownership, and even in a Democratic-leaning city and county, there would be heavy objection to tighter regulations.
Rawlings isn’t floating any new city ordinance to crack down on guns or gun owners. But he wants to help move the national agenda forward, he said, even if his voice is drowned out by those at the White House, Congress and NRA.
“I am a major supporter of responsible gun ownership. I’m a gun owner. Most of Dallas is major gun owners.” But, Rawlings said, “99 percent of my friends and my associates who own guns want to do it in a common-sense manner.”
Recently, Rawlings held an emotional news conference at City Hall decrying domestic abuse and the general culture of violence. He briefly suggested that Dallas might ban gun shows from the city’s convention center, which hasn’t hosted such events in a decade. That quickly fell apart, as Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott threatened to take on cities banning gun shows.
But until Friday morning he had kept his options open on the larger gun control debate raging in Washington — taking time, he said, to consider the arguments.
“Which side am I on in this thing? I’m on the side of universal background checks and minimizing these magazines. This is a common sense approach,” he said. “I’m most passionate about magazines. There’s no reason for a 30-round magazine. What the right number is, I don’t know.”
He added: “And I get this from all my friends that are gun owners. They say we don’t need that many” rounds in a magazine.
Dallas, thankfully, hasn’t seen mass shootings of the sort in Newtown and Aurora, Colo. Dallas’ gun violence is typically more “intimate and individual,” the mayor said, but that’s no reason for Texans to ignore the very real problems elsewhere.
“This is a national debate that we’re dealing with. This should not be pro-gun or anti-gun,” he said. “The argument that suddenly you’re against the Second Amendment holds no water with me. I’m pro the Second Amendment.”
Mayors, with a first-hand view of gun violence, have often pushed for stricter measures. The national group has backed gun control for more than 40 years, and its current president, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, has been outspoken for Obama’s agenda. Biden and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another vocal advocate of gun control, addressed the group last week.
Rawlings said he’s yet to hear a “panacea” for gun violence, including the Obama plan. But to him, that’s no reason to fail to tighten access to weapons that lend themselves to mass killing.
“When I’ve got a huge problem, anything that will make a difference, any small movement, helps move this ahead,” he said. “We’re talking about for the next decades, here, not just next year. You don’t turn this ship of violence around overnight. But we’ve got to take any actions we can on this.”
Follow Washington Bureau Chief Todd J. Gillman on Twitter at @toddgillman.