A month of national grieving coupled with public debate over changes to federal gun regulations since December’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was capped on Wednesday when President Obama announced his intentions to champion gun control legislation and enact immediate reforms through executive order.
Speaking at the conclusion of a review of gun laws led by Vice President Biden commenced in the wake of the death of 26 teachers and students at Sandy Hook Elementary, the president’s endorsement of aggressive measures to combat gun violence marked a sharp contrast to the aftermath of previous mass shooting incidents as well as White House reaction to the tragedy in Newtown. Obama and his aides had articulated that “existing” laws could be enough to prevent future massacres.
Stepping directly into the toxic battle over gun control, the president on Tuesday urged swift legislative action on a slew of proposals ranging from a new ban on assault weapons to mandatory background checks on every gun purchase.
President Barack Obama proposed a new assault weapons ban and mandatory background checks for all gun buyers on Wednesday as he tried to channel national outrage over the Newtown school massacre into the biggest U.S. gun-control push in decades.
Rolling out a wide-ranging plan for executive and legislative action to curb gun violence, Obama set up a fierce clash with the powerful U.S. gun lobby and its supporters in Congress, who will resist what they see as an encroachment on constitutionally protected gun rights.
Obama presented his agenda at a White House event in front of an audience that included relatives of some of the 20 first-graders who were killed along with six adults by a gunman on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“We can’t put this off any longer,” Obama said, vowing to use “whatever weight this office holds” to make his proposals reality. “Congress must act soon.”
Until now, Obama had done little to rein in America’s gun culture during his first four years in office. But just days before his second inauguration, he appears determined to champion gun control in his next term with a concerted drive for tighter laws and other steps aimed at preventing new tragedies like the one at Newtown.
The proposals stem from a month-long review led by Vice President Joe Biden, who on orders from Obama met with advocates on both sides, including representatives from the weapons and entertainment industries.
Obama’s plan calls on Congress to renew a prohibition on assault weapons sales that expired in 2004, a requirement for criminal background checks on all gun purchases, including closing a loophole for gun show sales, and a new federal gun trafficking law – long sought by big-city mayors to keep out-of-state guns off their streets.
The turnaround on gun policy after a month of relatively little indication from either the White House or Congress that any sweeping reforms would be forthcoming places Obama on a path to confrontation with the NR, the gun manufacturing industry and other pro-gun groups.
It also has already sparked debate among progressives and gun control advocates about whether the long list of executive ordered and proposed legislation will be enough to substantively curb gun violence that goes beyond mass shootings with assault weapons.
The bulk of Obama’s agenda would need to be approved by Congress, a tall order with the House in Republican hands and even Senate Democrats wary of launching a politically risky fight over guns only a year-and-a-half before the 2014 elections.
To counteract congressional vacillation and to appease activists demanding more aggressive gun control reforms, the president also announced 23 specific — though limited — executive orders relating to gun policy, most with little material impact on Americans.
1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
17. Release a letter to health-care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law-enforcement authorities.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
19. Develop model emergency-response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental-health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental-health-parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.
Critics will contend that President Obama could have been considerably tougher on guns and on the pro-gun lobby in light of a massive shift in public support for tighter restrictions on firearms.
Several new polls have shown a dramatic increase in the number of Americans calling for new gun regulations and tighter laws, with a CNN/Time/ORC poll released just before the president’s announcement indicating at least 55 percent of the nation wants “stricter” gun control.