By Jordan Fabian - 01/05/16 06:00 AM EST
President Obama and Democrats are going all in on gun control.
Obama on Tuesday will issue executive actions intended to curb gun violence by expanding background checks on people buying firearms online or at gun shows.
Gun control has divided Democrats in the past, and Obama barely touched the issue in his first term. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave him an “F” in 2009, calling his record an “abject failure.”
Yet at the beginning of a year that Democrats hope will end with Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDNC vice chairwoman apologizes to Sanders 7 pieces of advice for Hillary Clinton Wasserman Schultz backs down, won't open convention MORE’s election as president and their party winning back control of the Senate, the party believes Obama’s actions will help it send the political message that Republicans are blocking common-sense reforms that would reduce the number of mass killings in the country.
“If you’re a Democratic congressional candidate running in the House or Senate, it makes a great argument about how unresponsive Congress is and how beholden Congress is to special interest groups like the [National Rifle Association],” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
Party strategists believe a seemingly ever-escalating spate of mass shootings in recent years has shifted the politics of the issue.
Bannon touted an October CBS News/New York Times poll showing 92 percent of the American public supporting background checks for all gun buyers, including 87 percent of Republicans.
“In years past, Democrats have been a little shy about this issue, but I’ve noticed a fairly significant change in tone and tenor in the last couple of months,” said Jim Manley, a former adviser to Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDem ad blasts Indiana senate candidate on Social Security Super-PAC targets Portman on trade Dem leader urges compromise on FCC set-top box plan MORE (Nev.). “This kind of action is going to be aggressively supported by most, if not all, Democrats.”
The NRA and Republicans argue Obama is overstepping his authority with the new actions, however.
“This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTrump, Clinton intelligence briefings likely to start next week Clinton maps out first 100 days Why a bill about catfish will show whether Ryan's serious about regulatory reform MORE (R-Wis.) said in a Monday statement.
GOP candidates for the White House vowed to undo Obama’s actions.
“I will veto that. I will unsign that so fast,” GOP presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDNC vice chairwoman apologizes to Sanders 7 pieces of advice for Hillary Clinton Sanders optimistic on future of 'revolution' MORE said this weekend at a campaign rally in Mississippi.
Gun control in the past has pitted urban and rural Democrats against one another.
Many Democrats saw the 1994 assault weapon ban as a major reason why they lost control of Congress to Republicans that year.
When Bill ClintonBill Clinton7 pieces of advice for Hillary Clinton The Hill's 12:30 Report In defense of Wasserman-Schultz and other powerful women MORE’s own vice president, Al GoreAl GoreThe Hill's 12:30 Report Al Gore to skip Dem convention Priebus: Wasserman Schultz resignation was ‘inevitable’ MORE, lost the White House to Republican George W. Bush in 2000, some saw gun control as playing a role in states such as West Virginia and Gore’s home state of Tennessee.
More than a decade later, the number of House Democrats representing conservative districts has dropped precipitously, and the party appears largely unified about the need to take action on guns.
Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDNC vice chairwoman apologizes to Sanders 7 pieces of advice for Hillary Clinton Wasserman Schultz backs down, won't open convention MORE (I-Vt.), who represents a rural state and has backed gun rights legislation in the past, found himself playing defense at a Democratic presidential debate in December against Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Democratic presidential front-runner Clinton voiced support for the new background check rules before Obama, saying she intended to go further than the president on gun control.
“Hillary Clinton has been making a big issue of guns,” said Bannon. “The president jumping on board increases the size of the audience for her message.”
The December 2012 killings of 20 school children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., spurred Congress to take up the issue of gun control, though a bipartisan Senate bill to impose tougher background checks on gun sales failed to move forward in the Senate in part because of objections from Senate Democrats.
After Newtown, Obama issued 23 executive actions designed to curb gun violence, including enhanced information-sharing for background checks and requiring private health insurers to cover mental health services.
The background check action was considered in late 2013 after the effort failed in Congress. But federal lawyers disagreed about whether it would be legally defensible in court, according to The Washington Post.
By offering the change now, Ryan said “the president is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will.”
Obama, after huddling on Monday with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey, voiced confidence the new action would survive legal challenges.
“I’m ... confident that the recommendations that are being made by my team here are ones that are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment and people’s lawful right to bear arms,” he said.
The actions also reflect Obama’s intention to dictate the political debate as he begins the final year of his presidency.
Ryan and GOP leaders had hoped to dominate the headlines of the first week of 2016 by for the first time sending Obama legislation to repeal much of ObamaCare and defund Planned Parenthood.
Instead, Ryan on Monday was forced to respond to the president on guns.
The core measure would urge more sellers to register as federally licensed gun dealers. The move is intended to close the “gun show loophole” that allows certain unregistered sellers to avoid checking buyers’ backgrounds.
“This is not going to solve every violent crime in this country,” Obama said Monday of the pending actions. “It’s not going to prevent every mass shooting, it’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal. It will potentially save lives and spare families the pain of these extraordinary losses.”