By Justin Sink and Mike Lillis - 01/15/13 12:53 AM EST
President Obama said Monday he would outline his plan to reduce gun violence by the end of the week, but he declined to say whether an assault-weapon ban would be central to that effort.
The package, based on recommendations from Vice President Biden, is expected to include a combination of legislative proposals and executive actions. But with a growing number of Republicans lining up with the National Rifle Association (NRA) against tougher firearm laws, even some of the most ardent gun-control advocates on Capitol Hill are expressing doubts that Congress will pass any significant reforms this year.
Obama brushed aside the political concerns, saying his sole focus is to promote effective strategies for preventing gun violence in the wake of last month’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders were killed by a lone gunman.
“My starting point is not to worry about the politics,” Obama said from the White House during what was expected to be his last press conference of his first term. “My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works, what should we be doing to make sure that our children are safe and that we’re reducing the incidence of gun violence.”
While he encouraged members of Congress to “vote their conscience,” the president refused to say whether he viewed an assault-weapons ban as essential.
“I’ll give a fuller presentation later in the week,” Obama said.
Two schools of thought among gun reformers seem to be emerging around Obama’s strategy. The first says the president should present a sweeping package that includes even the most controversial gun controls — like the assault-weapons ban — and negotiate down from there.
“Go for the Cadillac plan,” suggested one House Democratic aide who supports tougher gun laws. “See what you can get.”
But a second camp is arguing that Obama would have much better luck scaling down his legislative wish list by excluding the thorniest reforms.
Adam Winkler, a constitutional scholar at the UCLA School of Law, said Obama would do better to focus on less toxic proposals, like plugging holes in the background-check system for gun purchases. Things like the assault-weapons ban and the creation of a federal gun registry, he warned, are “nonstarters” among Republicans and could sink the entire effort.
Timing is also a concern, Winkler said, as each passing day erodes the emotional public response that followed the Sandy Hook tragedy.
“The best chance for getting something passed is right away,” said Winkler, the author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.
A stalemate in Congress would put more pressure on Obama to take action unilaterally, even if his executive-order options lack the consequence of legislative changes. Obama on Monday said among the steps he’s considering is a change in how the federal government collects data on gun crimes.
“I’m confident there are some steps we can take that don’t require legislation,” Obama said.
Highlighting the radioactive nature of gun reform on Capitol Hill, freshman Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) warned Monday that he will fight any gun-related executive actions by Obama, even if it means trying to impeach the president.
“I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House and even filing articles of impeachment,” Stockman said in a statement.
Obama said such criticism is unwarranted. He stressed that any executive moves would be limited in scope, and he blasted opponents of the effort for “ginning up fear” among gun owners.
“We’ve seen for some time now that those who oppose any common-sense gun-control or gun-safety measure have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that somehow the federal government is about to take all your guns away,” he said. “Responsible gun owners … they don’t have anything to worry about.”
Resistance might not be limited to the GOP-controlled House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a long-time opponent of gun reforms like the assault-weapons ban, warned over the weekend that he’s not going to stage votes on any gun proposals that don’t have a chance of passing the lower chamber.
“Let’s be realistic. In the Senate, we’re going to do what we think can get through the House,” Reid said in an interview with Vegas PBS. “And I’m not going to be going through a bunch of these gyrations just to say we’ve done something because if we’re really legislators, the purpose of it is to pass legislation.”
House Democrats have separately formed a task force designed to propose their own gun-violence prevention strategy. Leaders of that group, including chairman Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), met Monday with Biden to discuss a path forward.
Speaking earlier in the day at the Center for American Progress, Thompson said he’s hopeful that there’s bipartisan support for a number of reforms, including a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and expanded background checks.
“You’ll see, I think, bipartisan support [for a ban] on the assault magazines,” Thompson said. “You’ll see bipartisan support for the background checks. Those are the things that … I believe that middle- ground folks will be OK with.”
Daniel Strauss contributed.