I continue to be cautiously — or perhaps foolishly — optimistic that we may really see Democrats attempt gun law reform in the wake of the Newtown carnage, and today brings fresh reasons for that optimism.
At the White House briefing today, press secretary Jay Carney confirmed that President Obama supports Senator Dianne Feinstein’s proposal to renew the assault weapons ban, which she intends to introduce on the first day of the new Congress.
Here’s more: A top member of the Senate Democratic leadership tells me Dems are very likely to introduce a whole package of reforms — not just the assault weapons ban; that plus a host of other initiatives — during the first half of 2013.
“This is likely to be part of a package of proposals,” Senator Dick Durbin told me, in a reference to the assault weapons ban, adding that Dems would consider including other ideas like limiting high capacity magazine clips, beefing up background checks, expanding mental health services, and looking at violence in movies and video games. He said action was likely “early next year.”
Durbin has previously said he plans a hearing on gun violence next year. In the interview, he told me that a key goal would be to spotlight the Second Amendment. “I want to spell out exactly what the court has said in terms of the authority of Congress to limit Second Amendment rights,” Durbin said.
In a bit of a surprise, Durbin said he hopes to win over “a minimum of 10 to 15 votes” from Republican Senators. That may seem like a tall order, given the GOP’s deeply ingrained hostility towards gun restrictions. But Durbin and other Dems are hopeful that the horrific nature of the Newtown shootings may be triggering a fundamental shift in the culture at large and in the willingness of lawmakers to act on the need for better gun control.
“There’s a feeling among those of us who support it that the national attention and political energy is there now to move this conversation forward,” Durbin said. “The Newtown tragedy has changed the political equation.” He added Dems hoped to reach out to law enforcement officials and hunters (who shouldn’t have a problem, in theory, with beefed up background checks, gun safety technology or high capacity magazine bans) to enlist their support.
For a sense of the range of policy responses available here, see pieces by Ezra Klein and Bloomberg News. As Klein notes, the key here is to approach gun violence as a broader problem afflicting our society, not as a response to any particular isolated incident.
It’s true, as Jonathan Chait points out, there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic that we’ll ever see reform. Republicans control the House, and Democrats will have to slowly sell reforms to the public, which will mean a long, hard political slog that could go on for years. But if Dems make good on their promise to move forward early next year with hearings and even a package of reforms — and a salutary discussion over the true nature of the Second Amendment, as Durbin promises — perhaps we’ll see the beginnings of a real and extended political debate that could put us on that path.