January 16, 2013
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is launching the nation's most sweeping effort to curb gun violence in nearly two decades, urging a reluctant Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like those used in last month's massacre of 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Conn.
The broad package Obama will announce today is expected to include more than a dozen steps the president can take on his own through executive action. Those measures will provide a pathway for skirting opposing lawmakers, but they will be limited in scope, and in some cases, focused simply on enforcing existing laws.
But Congress would have to approve the bans on assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets, along with a requirement for universal background checks on gun buyers. Some gun control advocates worry that opposition from Republicans and conservative Democrats, as well as the National Rifle Association, will be too great to overcome.
We're not going to get an outright ban, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., said of limits on assault weapons.
White House officials, seeking to avoid setting the president up for failure, have emphasized that no single measure – even an assault weapons ban – would solve a scourge of gun violence across the country.
It is a simple fact that there are limits to what can be done within existing law, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
New York's Assembly on Tuesday easily passed the toughest gun control law in the nation – it's also the first since the Connecticut school shootings – and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law less than an hour later. The law includes a tougher assault-weapons ban and provisions to try to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people who make threats.
Obama will announce his proposals in a midday event at the White House, flanked by children who wrote to him about gun violence after the massacre of 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Law enforcement officials, mayors from across the country and supportive lawmakers are also expected to attend.
The president's framework is based on recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden, who led a wide-ranging task force on gun violence. Beyond the gun control measures, Biden also gave Obama suggestions for improving mental health care and addressing violent images in video games, movies and TV.
Biden's proposals included 19 steps that could be achieved through executive action.
Obama may order the Justice Department to crack down on people who lie on background checks; only a tiny number are now prosecuted. Such a step has support from the National Rifle Association.
He also could take steps ordering federal agencies to make more data on gun crimes available and conduct more research on the issue, something Republican congressional majorities have limited through language in budget bills. And he may order tougher penalties against gun trafficking and give schools flexibility to use grant money to improve safety.
House Republican leaders are expected to wait for any action by the Senate before deciding how – or whether – to proceed with any gun measure.