This week, Vice President Joe Biden will present President Obama with a comprehensive set of recommendations for reducing gun violence in America, a move that is expected to spark the most vigorous national debate on gun control in recent memory. Biden's proposals will reportedly include three pillars — reinstitution of the assault weapons ban, implementation of universal background checks, and banning the sale of high-capacity magazines — that will require approval from Congress. He will also reportedly present 19 specific actions Obama can take through executive orders.
In the wake of the school massacre in Connecticut, gun-control advocates are optimistic that Congress will pass some measures to strengthen the country's gun-control laws. Universal background checks, for example, would appear to be the type of modest proposal that could garner bipartisan support. Even taking high-capacity magazines off the market is a possibility. However, reviving the assault weapons ban, which expired under George W. Bush, is universally recognized as being a heavy lift. The measure is expected to be opposed not only by the GOP-controlled House, but by many Democrats, possibly including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).
As a result, Obama is feeling pressure from the left to flex the White House's muscles. And at a news conference on Monday, he indicated that he was more than willing to act on his own. "I'm confident that there are some steps that we can take that don't require legislation and that are within my authority as president," he said. "And where you get a step that has the opportunity to reduce the possibility of gun violence then I want to go ahead and take it."
The strategy does not come without its headaches. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) has already threatened to file articles of impeachment against Obama if he were to take unilateral action on guns. "If the president is allowed to suspend constitutional rights on his own personal whims, our free republic has effectively ceased to exist," Stockman said.
But what kind of executive action does the White House have in mind? According to reports of a meeting that Biden had with several Democratic lawmakers, he is considering recommending the following:
1. New limits on guns imported from overseas
2. Encouraging federal agencies to share mental health records
3. Ordering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes of gun violence
4. Bolstering enforcement of existing gun laws
5. Urging state and federal agencies to share existing gun-ownership databases
In addition, Mother Jones has a helpful list of 14 specific steps Obama can take, such as pushing for a full-time director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, an enfeebled agency that could potentially be the White House's most potent enforcement arm when it comes to gun laws.
Legislators who attended the meeting with Biden say Obama may also tap his extensive campaign network to build support for more gun control. "[Biden] said that this has been a real focus on the policy and that the politics of this issue, that a strategy on the politics of the issue hasn't been undertaken yet," Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told Politico. "He did remind us that the campaign infrastructure is still accessible."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why you shouldn't eat dog. Not even once.
- Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science
- How U.S. special forces are preparing for the worst-case scenario in North Korea
- Why Israel can no longer let the Palestinian Authority be responsible for security in the West Bank
- Grammar quiz: Do you know the passive voice?
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- How social conservatives became a minority in need of protection
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why charity can't solve society's deepest problems
- The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP
Subscribe to the Week