Obama is rolling out his gun proposals soon. Here’s what you need to know.

January 15, 2013

Expect plenty of gun talk in the days ahead. On Tuesday, Vice President Biden wraps up his task force on reducing gun violence and presents his findings to the president. Later this week, President Obama will announce his own recommendations on what to do about guns.


A collection of classroom-safe training pistols from a concealed-weapons permit class in Florida. (BRIAN BLANCO/REUTERS)

So, what's Obama likely to say? And what are the biggest ideas on curbing gun violence from think tanks and other experts? Here's our round-up of what we know so far:

1) Obama is considering up to 19 executive orders on guns that won't require Congressional approval. "Actions the president could take on his own are likely to include imposing new limits on guns imported from overseas, compelling federal agencies to improve sharing of mental health records and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence, according to those briefed on the effort. White House aides believe Mr. Obama can also ratchet up enforcement of existing laws, including tougher prosecution of people who lie on their background checks," the New York Times reported.

It's unlikely that Obama can significantly alter gun laws through executive order. But he can do much more to enforce existing laws. Over at Mother Jones, Tim Murphy and Adam Serwer detailed 14 possible steps. They include more aggressive prosecution of those who buy guns illegally; background checks for employees of gun dealers; stricter inventory control at federally licensed gun dealers; and a requirement that the FBI to contact state and local agencies when a gun buyer is rejected for mental health reasons.

Tighter enforcement is something even the NRA could well support. For instance: "Increasing the number of prosecutions for lying on background-check forms is an effort that the administration can undertake largely on its own, in part by pressing federal prosecutors to pursue such cases," according to the New York Times. "It is also one measure that both sides of the gun-control debate have agreed upon.”

2) Obama will also likely recommend stricter gun-control measures that require Congressional approval. The White House reportedly has its eye on three major changes: banning assault weapons, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines and mandating universal background checks.

These policies will be heavily debated. The United States imposed a ban on some assault weapons and high-capacity magazines from 1994 to 2004. Experts generally conclude that the law was ridden with loopholes and, hence, ineffective, although mass shootings may have dropped during that period. As for background checks: An estimated 40 percent of gun sales do not go through licensed dealers; they are private sales that don't include background checks. Closing this "loophole" has been a longtime aim of gun-control advocates.

But none of this will be politically simple. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), for one, seems to think an assault-weapons ban can't get through Congress. "Is it something that can pass the Senate? Maybe. Is it something that can pass the House? I doubt it," he said recently, according to TPM. 

3) Some of Obama's recommendations are likely to go beyond narrow gun control. "The president’s proposals are also expected to include steps for improving school safety and mental health care, as well as recommendations for addressing violence in entertainment and video games," the Associated Press reported.

Early leaks suggest that he'll also deal with school safety: "A Democratic lawmaker who met with Biden on Monday said the vice president was likely to have given Obama proposals for allowing schools flexibility in spending federal grant money so they could take steps toward safety, including hiring school resource officers, instituting mental health intervention or making repairs like putting locks on doors." the AP report said.

4) Think tanks and gun-advocacy groups have been putting out their own proposals.

--The Center for American Progress has released its 13 recommendations for curbing gun violence, which focus on "Better background checks," "Taking military-grade weapons off the streets and out of criminals’ hands" and "Better data, better coordination, and better enforcement."

--The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has pushed hard for universal background checks but wants to go further: "Brady wants to 'provide legal mechanisms to prevent those dangerously mentally ill' from buying guns," TPM reported. "Brady would also like to extend bans on firearms possession to certain violent offenders beyond current bans that apply to domestic violence. The group also wants to strengthen enforcement of existing firearms bans related to 'violent juvenile offenders, and some substance abusers.'”

--The NRA has also offered five suggestions of its own: Stop promoting gun-free school zones; stop giving so much media coverage to school shootings and other such massacres; consider a national database for the mentally ill; focus more scrutiny on violent movies and video games; and put armed security guards in every school.

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Neil Irwin | January 15, 2013