The Washington Post

Sweeping new gun laws proposed by influential liberal think tank

With President Obama readying an overhaul of the nation’s gun laws, a liberal think tank with singular influence throughout his administration is pushing for a sweeping agenda of strict new restrictions on and federal oversight of gun and ammunition sales.

The Center for American Progress is recommending 13 new gun policies to the White House — some of them executive actions that would not require the approval of Congress — in what amounts to the progressive community’s wish list.

CAP’s proposals — which include requiring universal background checks, banning military-grade assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and modernizing data systems to track gun sales and enforce existing laws — are all but certain to face stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association and its many allies in Congress.

Obama — as well as Vice President Biden, who is leading the administration’s gun violence task force — has voiced support for many of these measures. Yet it is unclear which policies he ultimately will propose to Congress. Biden is planning to present his group’s recommendations to Obama on Tuesday.

CAP’s recommendations, presented Friday to White House officials and detailed in an 11-page report obtained by The Washington Post, establish a benchmark for what many in Obama’s liberal base are urging him to do after last month’s massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

“There’s nothing here that interferes with the rights of people to have a gun to protect themselves,” CAP President Neera Tanden said. But, she added, “we have daily episodes where it seems that guns are in the wrong hands, and that’s why we think it’s important that the president acts.”

On Monday, Tanden will moderate a public discussion with three Democrats who have played leading roles in the gun debate: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who during the Clinton administration helped get the 1994 assault-weapons ban passed; Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), who helped write that bill as a House member; and Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.), who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.

One of CAP’s suggestions to toughen federal regulation of gun sales is to make the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is currently an agency within the Department of Justice, a unit of the FBI. CAP says absorbing the ATF into the FBI would better empower the ATF to combat gun crime and illegal trafficking.

“It is a beleaguered agency lacking leadership and resources,” said Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president of CAP. “It needs to be a well-functioning federal law enforcement agency, and we need to figure out ways to ensure that happens.”

CAP’s top recommendation is to require criminal background checks for all gun sales, closing loopholes that currently enable an estimated 40 percent of sales to occur without any questions asked. The organization also wants to add convicted stalkers and suspected terrorists to the list of those barred from purchasing firearms.

CAP is urging the Obama administration to back Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposal to ban assault weapons. The California Democrat wants to prohibit the sale, transfer, importation and manufacture of military-style assault weapons and ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 bullets.

The group also suggests requiring firearms dealers to report to the federal government individuals who purchase multiple semiautomatic assault rifles within a five-day period. Current law requires reporting multiple purchases of handguns, but not semiautomatic assault rifles.

CAP also wants the administration to free public health research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to study the impact of gun violence on injuries and deaths. For years, lawmakers, urged by the NRA, have placed riders on spending bills that restrict these and other agencies from conducting such research.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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