What President Obama proposed on guns. And what might actually pass Congress.

January 16, 2013

President Obama announced a sweeping slate of new gun control proposals Wednesday designed to curb mass violence, including new restrictions on guns, efforts to enhance school safety, and improving treatment of mental health issues. Some items will be enacted via executive order while others will require action on Capitol Hill. Below, we take a closer look at the larger proposals that will require action from Congress and offer our best educated guess of how likely they are to pass, based on recent polling and what lawmakers have said.

(For a complete look at all of the proposals, and whether they require Obama administration action or congressional approval, click here.)

* A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is set to introduce such a ban in the Senate soon, but its odds of passage don’t look that promising right now. Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have expressed doubts, while conservative Democrats the president will need on his side have also offered reservations. The National Rifle Association opposes such a ban.

What polling shows: A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday showed 58 percent of adults and 59 percent of registered voters support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons. A Pew poll released the same day showed 55 percent of Americans support a ban. But the issue divides Republicans and Democrats, something that especially matters in the GOP-controlled House, where many Republicans represent safe GOP districts that leave them more vulnerable to primary threats than general election challenges.

Odds of passage: Less than 50 percent.

* Requiring universal background checks in gun sales

Compared to an assault weapons ban, there is far greater overall consensus around the issue of strengthening background checks by requiring them in firearm sales at gun shows and in other private transactions, to end the so-called “gun show loophole.”

What polling shows: Eighty-eight percent of Americans said they support a law requiring background checks in sales at gun shows, according to the Washington Post-ABC News poll, including 89 percent of Republicans.

Odds of passage: 75 percent or better.

* Confirming B. Todd Jones as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Among the steps Obama is taking by executive action is the nomination of Jones, currently the agency’s acting director, to head the agency, which has not had a permanent head in six years. The Senate would have to confirm Jones.

What polling shows: There is no recent polling on Jones specifically.

Odds of confirmation: Very good, considering that there are no obvious reasons to hold it up. If concerns are raised, then the odds will be lowered.

* Enhancing school safety

The Obama administration is proposing enhancing the physical security of schools and better preparing them to respond to outbreaks of mass violence. The administration’s proposal includes a call to put as many as 1,000 trained police officers and school counselors on the job. The administration notes that not every school will want the additional resources, and the choice will be left to them. It is also calling on Congress to provide $30 million in one-time grants to states to help school districts shore up emergency management plans.

What polling shows: Overall, few Americans seem to disagree with the idea that school safety must be beefed up. The differences arise when it comes to the specifics. The Washington Post-ABC News poll showed, for example, that most support putting armed guards in every school — which is the idea the NRA has put forth. To be clear, the administration does not want to mandate school security; it is leaving choices up to them. It is also calling for more funding for emergency management.

Odds of passage: Very good.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · January 16, 2013