The proposals are likely to cover a broad range of issues, including possible new restrictions on the kinds of firearms that can be purchased, background checks of buyers, mental health and social service interventions, and other measures. Some mandates, such as ensuring that every buyer of a gun undergoes a background check, probably have a better than even chance of passing the Senate and House. Others, for example, the reinstatement of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004, are in for tough sailing.
There is no expectation that banning Internet sales of ammunition, registering firearms or licensing gun owners will be included in the task force's recommendations.
The Center for American Progress has just released its recommendations. Included in the list is an assault weapons sales and manufacturing ban that goes further than the 1994 ban, but would not confiscate or buy back such weapons from Americans who already own them.
No surprise that the key obstacle to any new restrictions on gun sales is the National Rifle Association. It has its hooks deeply embedded in the Republican Party that holds the majority in the House of Representatives. Although that majority is fractious on some matters, it can be expected to be unified on gun restrictions and at least a few Democrats can be expected to join it. The NRA has made itself clear:
David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, told CNN's State of the Union on Sunday that new restrictions on guns are unconstitutional and ineffective.The organization has worked diligently since 2008 to persuade Americans that Obama wants to take away their guns despite all the evidence to the contrary.
"They interfere with people's rights (to gun ownership) without doing anything to solve the problem," Keene said.
Biden, who the president chose to preside over the task force, has, like many other Americans, called for a comprehensive approach in dealing with gun violence. To that end he and other Cabinet members have met with a broad range of representatives from gun ownership and gun-control organizations (including the NRA), hunters, community leaders, law enforcement officials, educators, health professionals and representatives of the video game industry.
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Although a recent Public Policy Polling survey showed a drop of 10 points in favorability for the NRA, it still wields clout well beyond its proclaimed membership of four million and the fact that only 35 percent of Americans live in a household where someone owns a gun. Many of those Americans have been inflamed by hate-radio operatives claiming, just as the NRA does, that the Obama administration is preparing to confiscate their guns. The most extreme have boasted that they will shoot it out with anyone who comes for their guns and the politicians who support such a move.
But while the vast majority of gun owners view that as crazy talk, purchases of AR-15 rifles, high-capacity magazines, as well as other firearms and the ammunition for them have soared in the wake of the Connecticut massacre and high-level discussion of new restrictions. Certain firearms and ammunition are now back-ordered for months. The price of high-capacity magazines is running double, triple or more of what it was a month ago. Some Democratic gun-owners I know personally told me for publication, on condition I would not tell their names, that they don't expect the government to confiscate any already-sold firearms, but that they are themselves considering buying or have already bought items they think may be banned for future sale. That mostly means rapid-fire semi-automatic rifles, the AR-15 and others, as well as magazines capable of holding 30 or more rounds.
President Obama has indicated that he will support reinstatement of the 1994 ban on such weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. But the old ban did not require people who already owned such weapons to give them up. And high-capacity magazines that had already been manufactured before the ban were allowed to be sold. There were millions of these. Dealers continued to sell them for 10 years until the ban expired.
On Friday, according to the Associated Press, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy wrote a letter to Biden calling for reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, outlawing of high-capacity magazines and implementation of universal background checks for all buyers. The latter would close the so-called gun-show loophole that allows private sellers without federal firearms licenses to transfer guns without running a background check on buyers:
Malloy told Biden, a fellow Democrat, that Connecticut has some of the strongest gun control laws in the country, and a new state commission will be making recommendations regarding school safety, mental health services and gun violence prevention. [...]One area that hasn't gotten much public attention in the debate over gun restrictions is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. While the NRA and other gun lobbying groups say that existing laws should be enforced better instead of enacting new ones, the ATF has been hamstrung in doing just that. The bureau hasn't had a permanent chief since 2006, and the "acting interim director" is only a part-timer.
"Gun control must be addressed nationally," Malloy wrote. "As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95, what is legally available for sale in Florida or Virginia can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut."
Obama has nominated a replacement, but that appointment has been successfully blocked by the NRA. As NPR has reported, the ATF's budget is inadequate and centralization and use of its databases restricted. The bureau has not even been given funding or technological resources to cross-reference data in the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network system that traces guns used in crimes. The NRA's obstructionism in the matter demonstrates the true nature of the leadership of that organization.
Senate leaders have offered assurances that gun-safety legislation will be among the first bills introduced, a Senate Democratic aide said. But Majority Leader Harry Reid already is expressing doubts about enacting an assault-weapons ban, which President Barack Obama has urged Congress to pass. [...]Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat, has said that a stand-alone assault weapons ban won't clear the Senate.
Mr. Reid has long cast himself as a protector of the Second Amendment and recently expressed doubts about the prospects of banning assault weapons. On "Nevada Week in Review," a public television program in Las Vegas, he said a ban may pass the Senate, but likely wouldn't win sufficient support in the House. He added that "the American people want us to be very cautious what we do."
House Democrats have set up a task force whose recommendations are being shaped to gain bipartisan support, according to Rep. Mike Thompson (D., Calif.), who leads the group.
So, it's clear that we won't be short of recommendations. The question is whether we'll have the political will—and clout—to implement the ones that can actually do something to curb gun violence.