President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for measures including background checks for every gun buyer in America, a ban on assault weapons and ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets and a federal firearm trafficking law as part of a the most sweeping effort to curb deadly gun violence in at least a generation.
"While reducing gun violence is a complicated challenge, protecting our children from harm shouldn’t be a divisive one," Obama said. The President was joined by Vice President Joe Biden and some of the children who wrote to Obama in the aftermath of mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month that left 26 people dead, including 20 first graders.
The total cost of the president's proposals is estimated at $500 million.
At the bottom of this post is a fact-sheet, provided by the White House, detailing Obama’s proposals. But administration officials on a conference call previewing the announcement fleshed out some important details (on condition that they not be named) and left some important questions unanswered:
- They wouldn’t say whether any of the steps the president is recommending would have prevented the massacre at Sandy Hook and other recent mass shootings. "There’s no question that both the actions that he’s taking and the legislation that he’s proposing will save lives,” one senior official said on the call.
- They did not provide an estimate of how many lives would be saved annually if the president got everything he wanted, saying the social science on gun deaths is not precise enough to do so.
- Obama isn’t sending “specific legislative language” to Congress, the officials said, instead following his usual blueprint of laying out principles and then letting lawmakers craft a bill.
- In keeping with the president’s promises, his proposals would limit the manufacture of new assault weapons and ammunition clips with more than 10 bullets – but would not affect those already on the market.
- How did they settle on 10 bullets (and not seven, or 15)? One official said that number was taken from the 1994 assault weapons ban that Obama hopes to renew and strengthen.
- Was the so-called "Fast and Furious" gun trafficking scandal a factor in shaping the president's proposals? "It was not," said one official.
Bowing to political reality, Obama’s proposals included a wave of executive actions that circumvent Congress, where most Republicans and a few Democrats have balked at sweeping new restrictions they say could trample constitutional gun rights. The potent National Rifle Association lobby has also pledged to defeat new gun control measures. On the other side, retired congresswoman and mass shooting survivor Gabby Giffords plans to lobby her former colleagues, and national public opinion polls have shown a surge in popular support for new gun laws.
The president has long said he seeks a comprehensive strategy for preventing future mass shootings while diminishing the death toll from smaller-scale daily killings, officials said. Some of what he unveiled would require congressional action, like the assault weapons ban. Some could be achieved with merely a presidential signature – a step that could, in some cases, inflame opposition in Congress, notably among House Republicans. (Though some of those are decidedly small-scale: One of the 23 "executive actions" trumpeted by the White House was that Obama will "clarify" that Obamacare "does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes").
The proposals were the fruit of extensive discussions, led by Biden, with victims' groups, organizations that represent gun owners, elected officials, and law-enforcement leaders.
Obama wants to boost anti-bullying campaigns in schools, and training for educators. He also wants to give schools the ability to use some federal funds to improve safety – but did not explicitly echo the NRA’s demand for armed guards in schools.
Key steps also included imposing background checks on all gun purchases. Right now, an estimated 40 percent fall outside existing law, including those at gun shows and other 'private' sales, according to gun-control advocates. The existing system has stopped an estimated 1.5 million improper gun sales, according to an Obama aide, but "there's still too many loopholes." The president directed Attorney General Eric Holder to take a "fresh look" into whether the categories of people prohibited from buying firearms needs to be expanded or updated.
Obama also aimed to thaw what the White House called a "freeze" in scientific research by the Centers for Disease Control into gun violence. And he urged Congress to bankroll the CDC to do research into possible linkages between violent video games and other media images and real-life violence, to the tune of $10 million.
Here is a White House-provided fact sheet listing his "executive actions."
Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions
Today, the President is announcing that he and the Administration will:
Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
Nominate an ATF director.
Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.