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Opinion Morning Plum: Hillary Clinton just started a gunfight

In the wake of the Oregon shooting, it now looks as if political gunfights will be breaking out all over the presidential race. How to combat gun violence could become a real issue in the 2016 race: The Republican presidential candidates have seemed to adopt the position that there is little the federal government can do about it, and today, in an effort to contrast with that willfully defeatist posture, Hillary Clinton rolled out some concrete proposals.

Clinton’s new plan, which she will discuss on the campaign trail today, includes a raft of ideas: closing loopholes in the background check system; more aggressive action to revoke the licenses of gun dealers who knowingly supply so-called “straw purchasers”; and repealing a law that protects gun manufacturers from liability for gun violence.

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But the most controversial aspect of Clinton’s plan is this: She vowed to take executive action to partly close the loophole that allows private sellers to peddle guns without a background check if Congress doesn’t.

Clinton’s campaign says that this could theoretically be accomplished via a new rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that would more clearly define what it means to be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. Gun control advocates point out that under federal law, those “engaged in the business” of selling firearms must perform background checks, but federal regulations defining that phrase are too vague, allowing too many gun sales to proceed without such a check. Such federal regs, they say, could be changed through executive action that, for example, would set a clearer threshold defining “engaged in the business” of selling firearms in terms of the number of guns sold.

Arkadi Gerney, a gun policy expert at the Center for American Progress, tells me what Clinton’s new policy proposal means:

“The statute says that anyone engaged in the business of selling firearms must apply for a federal license. Like any other statute where it’s vague, there’s the potential to define it further. You could update the regulation and have a more clear threshold. You couldn’t say, we define ‘engaged in the business’ as anyone who sells a gun ever. But you could change the regulation to be more focused, more narrow, and less vague than it currently is, which makes it very hard to prosecute people who abuse the law and are selling tens and hundreds of guns as private sellers.
“One way you could do this would be to have a clear numerical threshold on the number of gun sales.”

But if Clinton could do this as president, couldn’t Obama do this by executive action right now? Gerney thinks the answer is Yes:

“Clinton’s idea of clarifying further what kind of gun sellers are engaging in business and need to get a license to sell guns is a smart one.  She’s right that the President can do more to define the current law on what level of gun-selling activity triggers the requirement to conduct background checks. And, by putting this idea forward it is something of an implicit challenge to the current administration to move forward along these lines.”

More on this later, but this raises new questions: Is Obama, who has been visibly frustrated by government inaction, thinking of undertaking such an executive action? Will Clinton’s public vow to undertake such action raise the pressure on the administration to do the same?

Meanwhile, Clinton’s new proposal seems like an implicit challenge to Bernie Sanders, who has been criticized as insufficiently committed to gun reform.  And the vow of action — including executive action — also seems designed to project an urgency that will contrast sharply with the decided lack of urgency projected by the GOP presidential candidates. But that brings us to our next item.

* ON GUNS, TRUMP’S BRASH ‘GET IT DONE ‘ SPIRIT EVAPORATES: On Meet the Press and This Week, Donald Trump was pressed on what we should do about gun violence and mass shootings. He kept repeating that mental illness was the problem and that people are going to slip through the “cracks.” And he said this on Meet about the Oregon shooting:

“You were not allowed to have guns at all in that particular area. And you could make the case that it woulda been a lot better had people had guns because they had something to fire back.”

So, is more armed security Trump’s answer? Pressed on that question, the brash, get-it-done billionaire demurred again. Deporting 11 million people is a piece of cake, but gun violence is a problem we can’t even begin to debate trying to solve.


The United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations on Monday agreed to the largest regional trade accord in history, a potentially precedent-setting model for global commerce and worker standards that would tie together 40 percent of the world’s economy, from Canada and Chile to Japan and Australia. The Trans-Pacific Partnership still faces months of debate in Congress and will inject a new flash point into both parties’ presidential contests.

Look for Donald Trump to demagogue this to the hilt against his GOP rivals, who support “free trade.” How will blue collar Republicans respond?

* SANDERS-MENTUM CONTINUES DRIVING LARGE CROWDS: Over the weekend, Bernie Sanders drew a crowd of 20,000 in Boston, doubling the 10,000 showing that Barack Obama drew in Massachusetts in 2008. What’s interesting here is that Massachusetts holds its primary voting on March 1st, so this hints at the possibility that Sanders may be able to post good showings after the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

What still remains to be seen is whether Sanders can really compete with Hillary Clinton in states outside the northeast where the electorate is far more diverse, giving her a real advantage.


Vice President Joe Biden is nearing a decision on whether to run for president, and it could come as early as within the next seven to 10 days, according to three people familiar with his deliberations. Two of those people said he is leaning toward entering the race.

We’ll see about this. Even if Biden does announce within seven to 10 days, mid-October seems awfully late to launch, given the need to ramp up organizing and fundraising.

* HOW OBAMA CAN FIGHT GUN VIOLENCE ON HIS OWN: A leading gun control group will release a report today that documents other executive actions that President Obama can take right now to try to prevent guns from falling into the hands of dangerous people. Among the ideas: making it clear to law enforcement agencies that prohibitions of gun sales to those convicted of domestic abuse also applies to those who are unmarried; and stepping up efforts to get federal agencies to notify state agencies of people who fail background checks.

While such steps appear modest, Obama declared after the Oregon shooting that he has directed his staff to determine what actions are available to him, so he may take whatever ideas he can get.

* CALLING OUT CONSERVATIVES ON GUN VIOLENCE: E.J. Dionne says that we damn well should be politicizing gun violence:

Politicizing this struggle means being unrelentingly candid in calling out an American conservative movement that proudly champions law and order but allows itself to be dominated by gun extremists who deride every gun measure that might make our country a little bit safer — no matter how many mass killings we have. Conservatives all over the world are aghast at our nation’s permissive attitude toward guns. Is a dangerous and harebrained absolutism about weaponry really the issue on which American conservatives want to practice exceptionalism?

Well, yes, they do, though they would probably not define their stance as “dangerous and harebrained absolution,” since many of them actually believe more guns are really the answer.

* AND VOTERS LIKE HILLARY, BUT DON’T LOVE HER: The Associated Press talked to more than 70 Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, and found that many support her candidacy but still harbor doubts about her, either on specific issues or more generally. Note:

“She certainly could manage the country,” said Jim Gallagher, a 61-year-old, real estate investor from Manchester. “But she just rubs me the wrong way. But, hey, you don’t have to like her, right?”

I’d be very interested to know whether this is a widespread sentiment: She may not be all that likable, but she has the attributes necessary to run the country, and you don’t have to like her, anyway.