President Obama announced 23 different executive orders on Wednesday in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and 6 staff members dead. The series of measures and the push for legislation are more sweeping than many experts predicted and more broad than many Americans may have anticipated.
The White House Task Force headed by Vice President Joe Biden turned out not to be a political show resulting in no concrete proposals and the announcement now puts pressure on Congress to act against fierce opposition from partisans and the gun lobby. Introducing the president, Vice President Biden said, “No one can know for certain if this senseless act could have been prevented, but we all know we have a moral obligation -- a moral obligation to do everything in our power to diminish the prospect that something like this could happen again.”
The list of proposals includes predictable measures like universal background checks, a new assault weapons ban, and the confirmation of the interim director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Todd Jones, and a ban on high capacity ammunition clips.
Also included in the list were less predictable measures, including federally funded research on gun violence to better aid law enforcement efforts to curb shootings and improvements to state government reporting on the mentally ill to prevent them from purchasing guns. President Obama also made the important point that more resources for mental health are necessary, but the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. There was even an added provision for research into the impact of violent video games and movies, an idea that is often suggested by the opposition to gun safety laws.
Overall, the task forces’ proposals are a combination of items the president can do unilaterally, which will go into immediate effect and others will require Congress to legislate. With House Republicans almost certainly block any and all legislation in this area and the question becomes whether Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) even brings any bills to the floor without a majority of Republicans on board as he did with the fiscal cliff and the Sandy Aid bill recently.
The president’s remarks were sharply aimed at the NRA who the administration has cast as the opposition to any common sense legislation. With their latest attack ad on the president’s call for gun violence prevention laws, including an attack on Sasha and Malia Obama, and calling the president an “elitist hypocrite,” the NRA is continuing its slide into irrelevance. While the gun lobby is powerful, and will be a powerful force in opposition to any of the president’s proposals that require congressional action, their views have increasingly become out of sync with the mainstream of America. Even more surprising is the latest polling which shows NRA members siding with the president on many of these key provisions.
Only time will tell whether these plans laid out by the Obama administration will be successful in curbing gun violence in the country but there is no question that the president is serious about wanting to get something substantial done, even if the politics aren’t necessarily on his side.
“This will be difficult,” said President Obama. “There will be pundits and politicians and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty, not because that's true but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes they'll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever. The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says, this time must be different, that this time we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.”
“This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged.”