What Obama Can Do On Guns Right Now, Without Congress

Even as reports surface that he has asked his cabinet to look into an assault-weapons ban and that an old Justice Department report may be back on the table, the president could use executive orders to impose some gun restrictions — today.

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While lots of "pro-gun" Democratic senators are calling for new gun control legislation in the wake of the Newtown school shooting, and some conservative pundits are, too, the real barrier to passing such legislation remains conservative House Republicans. After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in 2011, more than 130 Democrats co-sponsored a bill to ban high-capacity magazines, but zero Republicans did, The New York Times ​points out today. But President Obama could use executive orders to impose some gun restrictions, Reuters' David Ingram reports, and the Justice Department has been looking at ways to do that since the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. The New York Times's Charlie Savage reported over the weekend that the department's study had been shelved a year ago, but Reuters now indicates the study is ongoing. Options for immediate executive action may include:

  • Incorporating more information in background checks, like a potential buyer's history of mental illness.
  • Sharing more information with state and local officials about gun purchases that could be illegal.
  • Keeping information on gun sales longer.
  • Limiting the importation of military-style weapons.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also suggested this morning on MSNBC that Obama can appoint new officials, force prosecutors to process gun buyers lying on their applications, insist on tracking down rogue gun dealers, and more:

The Washington Post reports today that the president has asked his cabinet "to formulate a set of proposals that could include reinstating a ban on assault rifles." But Obama has shown a willingness to use executive orders on controversial issues before, like when he stopped the deportation of young illegal immigrants this summer. Still, opposition to gun control has been strong. Reuters explains that when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms instituted a rule requiring gun sellers to report when someone bought more than one semi-automatic weapon at a time, congressional Republicans tried to defund the rule. Gun makers sued, lost, and are appealing the decision.

There are some signs the gun lobby is a little weaker than it used to be. The National Rifle Association has long been one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, but since Citizens United, its campaign war chest is less impressive, The New York Times' Nicholas Confessore, Michael Cooper and Michael Luo report. (A billionaire can easily match its funds with a single donation.) And the NRA's constituency — white, male — is not the group of voters the Republican Party has been looking to reach out to after the 2012 election. But Illinois Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley frankly explained Obama's lack of action on guns in his first term to Roll Call. "I don’t blame him. I know exactly what happened to Clinton after this in the mid-term elections," Quigley said. "The reality is we need him to be a president for a second term, and the opposition to this maybe has finally turned."

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