The task force was established in December after the slaughter of kindergarteners and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, by a young gunman armed with a rapid-fire semi-automatic rifle owned by his mother, whom he also killed before shooting himself when police arrived on the scene.
Staff aides say the president wants to act quickly for fear that delay will allow the massacre to fade from memory as other pressing matters take over the government's and public's attention and the prospects for new legislation also fades.
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While the full parameters of any such legislation have not yet emerged, some items are clearly on the table:
• A reinstatement of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004. That ban, part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, forbade new sales of 19 semi-auto rifles with specific features. Already owned weapons in these categories, as long as they were legally acquired, were excluded from the ban. The law also limited the capacity of newly manufactured magazines and other ammunition feeding devices to 10 rounds. But it allowed higher-capacity magazines that already had been manufactured to continue to be sold. There were millions of these.
• A requirement for universal background checks of anyone seeking to purchase a firearm in any venue, whether from a federally licensed firearms dealer or from a private individual. Currently, private individuals at gun shows and elsewhere can sell firearms without running a background check to see if prospective buyers have criminal records or mental health issues that bar them from gun ownership.
• Tracking firearms through a national database.
• Creating a more robust mental health check of potential buyers.
• Legislating tough penalties for carrying firearms near schools.
So far, the idea of licensing gun owners, of limiting the number of firearms a person may buy in a certain period to prevent "strawman" sales, requiring robust safety and proficiency tests, banning internet sales of ammunition and limiting who can obtain licenses for carrying concealed firearms do not seem to be under consideration. And First Amendment obstacles may prevent anything other than jawboning when it comes to the content of video games.
To sell such changes, the White House is developing strategies to work around the National Rifle Association that one source said could include rallying support from Wal-Mart and other gun retailers for measures that would benefit their businesses. White House aides have also been in regular contact with advisers to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), an outspoken gun-control advocate who could emerge as a powerful surrogate for the Obama administration’s agenda. [...]Everyone favoring new laws knows that the road ahead has one major obstacle, the National Rifle Association. The NRA's leadership includes gun manufacturers as well as right-wing politicians and celebrities. The organization has been a driving force behind changes in gun laws over the past 25 years, including keeping the assault weapons ban from being renewed nine years ago as well as the spread of state legislation mandating easy-to-obtain permits to carry concealed firearms.
The White House is also developing strategies to navigate the rocky and emotionally fraught terrain of gun politics once final policy decisions are made. The administration is quietly talking with a diverse array of interest groups, including religious leaders, mental-health professionals and hunters, to build as broad a coalition as possible, those involved in the discussions said.
Biden has said the administration does not fear taking on the NRA. Which is a good thing because that organization can be counted on to stand stubbornly in the path of even the mildest new legislation if it doesn't mandate the spread of firearms as a means to stop gun violence.
On the other side, there are a number of organizations seeking new gun restrictions. The formation of a new one to counter the gun lobby was announced Tuesday by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. Giffords was severely wounded when shot in the head by Jared Loughner in Tucson two years ago. In the shooting spree, Loughner also killed six other people and wounded 19 with a semi-automatic pistol fed with a extended 33-round magazine. He was stopped when he attempted to reload.
The organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions, will push for a national dialogue on gun violence and raise money to counter the NRA. In an op-ed, Giffords and Kelly write:
Special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe have used big money and influence to cow Congress into submission. Rather than working to find the balance between our rights and the regulation of a dangerous product, these groups have cast simple protections for our communities as existential threats to individual liberties. Rather than conducting a dialogue, they threaten those who divert from their orthodoxy with political extinction.Currently, opinion gauged by the polls, including one by Daily Kos/PPP, have shown that a majority of Americans support new restrictions, especially background checks and reinstating the assault weapons ban. That marks a change in what has been a decades-long downward trend in support for additional restrictions. But we can expect a full-bore campaign by the NRA and other gun groups, like the Gun Owners of America which thinks the NRA is a sell-out, to bend public opinion back in their direction.