At a press conference Monday, Obama said that Biden had presented the proposals to him. “My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works,” the president told reporters:
Actions the president could take on his own are likely to include imposing new limits on guns imported from overseas, compelling federal agencies to improve sharing of mental health records and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence, according to those briefed on the effort.The Center for American Progress, a progressive policy and advocacy group, released its recommendations Monday. They included proposals both for legislative and executive action, the latter including moving the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives bureau to the FBI, freeing the government collection and analysis of data about gun-related matters from restrictions pushed into being by the National Rifle Association, and taking a tougher stance on gun-trafficking. Some measures like those are likely to make it into the proposals announced by the president.
White House aides believe Mr. Obama can also ratchet up enforcement of existing laws, including tougher prosecution of people who lie on their background checks.
Although the proposals will presumably be announced all at once, the legislative ones may not be presented as a package for congressional action because the administration knows full well that getting some of them through the Senate and House will face tough opposition at a time when the majority of Americans support more gun restrictions but do not make them their highest priority. The Republican majority in the House, while splintered on some issues, can be counted upon to be united against most gun measures, particularly any law that would ban semi-automatic "assault" rifles and high-capacity magazines. But opposition may also be strong against some proposals in the Democratic-led Senate.
In an interview with a Nevada radio station that aired over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a long-time gun-rights advocate and opponent of an assault weapons ban that would require legislative action, said he doesn't think such a ban could make it through the Senate:
“Let’s be realistic. In the Senate, we’re going to do what we think can get through the House. 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,” Reid said. [...]
“Is it something that can pass the Senate? Maybe. Is it something that can pass the House? I doubt it,” Reid said. “So I think there are things that we know we can do.”
One item expected to be included in the task force's proposals that likely will get a lot of support is stepped-up action on gun-trafficking. Currently, the law requires that a conviction for trafficking requires that the seller knowingly sold a firearm to someone barred from owning one. That's too tough a standard, and it allows straw-man buyers to transfer guns to felons with impunity. Sellers ought to be liable if they transfer a firearm to a criminal without a background check. Requiring background checks for all gun sales would make prosecutions of trafficking a good deal easier.
One proposal for executive action that will probably garner widespread approval is stepped-up prosecution of people who are found by background checks to have lied when they fill out the federally required gun-purchase questionnaire. The FBI reported in 2009 that it had found 71,000 instances of such lying, but the Justice Department prosecuted a mere 77 cases.