Before the hour is out, the president will announce what he plans to achieve by executive action and what he will try to get Congress to enact legislatively in an effort to reduce violence committed by Americans with firearms. The United States has the highest rate of gun murders, suicides and accidental deaths of any developed nation in the world, far and away greater than the others, even those like Canada, Finland and Switzerland, where high percentages of the population own firearms.
Announcement of the proposals comes just over a month since 20 first-graders and six adults were slaughtered by a young, heavily armed mentally disturbed gunman. The massacre has stirred a fierce debate on gun violence that has continued to intensify. Polls have shown strong public support for some new gun restrictions, even among gun owners. But the right-wing leadership of the National Rifle Association, the nation's most powerful gun lobby, other gun advocacy groups and an apparent majority of Republican senators and representatives have made clear that they will fight the new proposals fang and claw.
To succeed in getting new restrictions, Obama will need every ounce of support he can muster from his base and a public aroused by the Newtown murders.
The proposals are expected to include a renewed ban on certain military-style semi-automatic rifles, an accompanying ban on high-capacity magazines for rifles and pistols, universal background checks, tougher controls over straw-man purchases that put guns into the hands of people barred from legally buying firearms, funding for more police to provide armed security in public schools, provisions designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who are dangerously mentally ill, and a call for a Senate vote on a chief for the beleaguered Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has only had interim directors since 2006 because of NRA opposition to filling the post.
Obama will also ask Congress to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to conduct research into gun violence. That's something that would seem to be an obvious arena for them to be engaged in already. But the gun lobby is nothing if not thorough. Thanks to its efforts, Congress barred research by the CDC that might "advocate or promote gun control" in 1996. It followed up in 2003 by getting Congress to keep the ATF from providing researchers with data on gun injuries and deaths. Last year, the National Institutes of Health were specifically prohibited from funding gun research.
The president is said to have picked several of the proposals he will enact by executive action from 19 possibilities presented to him by the task force that has been looking at prevention of gun violence for the past month under the guidance of Vice President Joe Biden. Some of those will no doubt be directed at spurring tougher enforcement of existing laws, something even the NRA will have a difficult time objecting to. But Ed Meese, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Iran-contra scandal who was attorney general in the Reagan administration, has said that Obama could be impeached if he goes too far with executive orders on gun control. Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman has also threatened impeachment over the matter.
In Congress, the most ferocious opposition is likely to focus on the assault weapons ban, which many observers are saying is dead on arrival, and the limit on magazine capacity. Even in the Democratically dominated Senate, those proposals will face tough sledding. Majority Leader Harry Reid has strong ties to the NRA, and he opposes the ban. He is not alone on that side of the aisle. “An assault-weapons stand-alone ban on just guns alone, in the political reality we have, will not go anywhere,” Sen. Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia, told CNN Sunday. Other Democrats, especially in Western states, may also resist the ban. A helpful look at who is who in Congress on the issue of guns can be found at ProPublica.
At a meeting where the president's proposals were discussed Tuesday night:
...some conservative Senate Democrats have indicated an uneasiness with Obama’s proposals as word of them leaked out ahead of the official announcement. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota each suggested Obama’s far-reaching prohibitions may be going too far. [...]Some gun-control groups would like to go a good deal further. Nobody is fantasizing about imposing the kinds of controls that Australia did in 1996 when, after several massacres, it implemented a mandatory buy-back of semi-automatic rifles, ultimately destroying 700,000 of them. Australia has long made it extremely difficult for private citizens to own handguns. Such a move would be politically impossible in the United States, where most of the millions of hunting rifles and shotguns now sold are semi-automatic.
But [Obama chief of staff Bruce] Reed called the universal background checks for all new gun purchases the most important element of Obama’s entire gun violence proposal. It also calls for a ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds and an anti-trafficking law that the White House hopes will break up gun-trafficking rings, Reed told the group.
But there are other measures that should be tried, the advocates say, including adding to the categories of people now barred from owning guns to include those convicted of violent misdemeanors and limiting how many guns a person can buy every month. They also want the ban on high-capacity magazines to cover not only sales, but also possession. The expired 1994 ban grandfathered in ownership of such magazines as well as the sale of those already manufactured when the ban was enacted. Estimates are that there were, at the time, 24 million such magazines in private hands.
“If you want to dam the river, you have to address all the channels,” said Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “You’re not going to stop it until you dam the whole river.”