In the wake of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, President Obama vowed this week to "leave no stone unturned" in an effort to curb gun violence. "AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets of our cities," Obama said in a speech to the National Urban League. But the president offered no specifics on what he would do, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney quickly clarified that Obama wasn't calling for new gun laws, just stepped up enforcement of existing rules. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that politicians don't want to pick a fight with the powerful National Rifle Association and gun-loving voters, meaning new gun-control laws have no prayer of passing Congress. If that's so, what options does Obama have to reduce gun violence? Here, four suggestions:
1. Let police officers confiscate more assault rifles
If Obama wants to get rid of more assault rifles, like the AR-15 used in the Aurora massacre, says Major Garrett at National Journal, he can start by giving law enforcement agencies the green light to confiscate more of these weapons. The Gun Control Act of 1968 stipulates that legal rifles must be "suitable for sporting purposes." President George H.W. Bush imposed a tighter definition for "sporting purposes" in 1989 — after a serial shooter killed five children with an AK-47 — to ban assault weapon imports. Bill Clinton also tightened restrictions by banning imports of firearms and ammunition from China. Former President George W. Bush later weakened the "sporting purposes" filter, but Obama has the power to unilaterally beef it up again, which would let cops round up more assault rifles.
2. Tighten background checks
Obama told the Urban League that most gun owners would agree that "we should do everything possible" to prevent criminals, fugitives, and "mentally unbalanced" people from buying guns. After the 2011 shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Obama proposed strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which he described as "the filter that's supposed to stop the wrong people" from getting guns. "Obama pledged to address gun violence, as he's again doing now," says Eli Stokols at Fox 31 Denver. And in the wake of the tragedy at The Dark Knight Rises screening in Aurora, he might just follow through. It also might be worth checking up on people who, like Aurora suspect James Holmes, buy SWAT helmets and piles of ammunition online, says The New York Times in an editorial. We shouldn't make the "tools of terror" so easy to obtain.
3. Impose tougher rules on gun dealers
Obama has the executive authority to make gun merchants help with gun control, says Garrett. He can "require dealers to better secure firearms from possible theft, mandate background checks of gun-shop employees, and eliminate the 'fire sale' loophole" letting dealers whose licenses get revoked to sell off inventory without compulsory background checks.
4. Get creative with some executive orders
There are plenty of things Obama can do "without having to come to Congress," Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), whose husband was killed in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting massacre, tells The Huffington Post. In the wake of a 1997 shooting spree on top of the Empire State Building, President Clinton used an executive order to require child-safety locks on weapons carried by federal law enforcement officers. Obama has executive powers he's not using, and just as Clinton did, he should at least "look on the books" to see what he can do.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- How I lost all my money
- The best books we read in 2014
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- How to save money: 12 great personal finance tips
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How to wrap a present with mathematical precision (and waste less paper)
Subscribe to the Week