White House Assault Weapons Ban Drawing Opposition

President Barack Obama will unveil tomorrow a package of proposals to cut gun violence, including a ban on sales of assault weapons that faces opposition in Congress even as a majority of the public backs it.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be joined by children who wrote the president expressing their concerns following the mass shooting last month at a Connecticut school for the announcement, scheduled for 11:45 a.m. at the White House, Jay Carney, the president’s chief spokesman, said.

Obama “will broadly address the steps forward he believes we need to take as a nation” to curb gun violence, and a “significant” portion of the proposals will require action by Congress, Carney said. “The president’s committed to this.”

While Carney refused to preview what the president will introduce, other administration officials said Obama will ask for universal background checks for firearms buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Initiatives to strengthen mental-health checks, tighten school safety, address cultural influences such as violent movies and video games, and improve the government’s ability to collect information about gun violence, are also on the list, according to the officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss details before the event.

The plan will include 19 separate steps Obama could take through executive action, prompting complaints from Republicans that he will abuse the authority of his office to monitor gun owners and restrict their rights.

Obama’s Caution

Obama, speaking yesterday on the one-month anniversary of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 20 children and six school employees, said some of his proposals may not become law.

“We’re going to have to come up with answers that set politics aside -- and that’s what I expect Congress to do,” Obama told reporters at a White House news conference. “Will all of them get through this Congress? I don’t know. But what’s uppermost in my mind is making sure I’m honest with the American people and Congress about what I think will work.”

Congressional Democrats shared the president’s skepticism. They said that passing gun legislation will be difficult with lawmakers mired in a debate over government spending, deficit reduction and raising the country’s $16.4 trillion debt limit.

‘Competing Initiatives’

“How far the shift in attitudes will go on gun-violence prevention remains to be seen, in part because there are other competing initiatives that the president is pursuing,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who’s dedicated much of his time to working on the gun issue since the Dec. 14 shootings.

Reinstating an expired 1994 assault-weapons ban, administration officials have indicated, will be among the most difficult to pass, given opposition from gun-rights groups and their allies on Capitol Hill.

“The likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get an assault-weapons ban through this Congress,” David Keene, the president of the National Rifle Association, said Jan. 13 in an interview with CNN.

While allies expressed support for the White House plans, some Democrats urged the president to take a narrower approach, concentrating on expanding background checks and limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines, proposals that even many gun owners back.

Ammunition Magazines

Support for banning high-capacity magazines has reached a new high, at 65 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released yesterday. The survey has tracked the issue since early 2011.

Requiring background checks on firearms buyers at gun shows has the support of 88 percent of Americans, while 58 percent want to ban the sale of assault weapons, the poll found. Fifty-five percent back the NRA’s call for armed guards in schools.

“We really need to prioritize what we do,” said Representative Mike Thompson, a California Democrat who is chairman of a House panel on gun violence.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School pushed the issue of gun violence to the top of the president’s agenda in his second term.

Obama is reviewing proposals gathered by Biden, who spent decades in the Senate working on gun restrictions and was appointed by the president to lead an administration-wide effort to craft a policy response.

Giffords’ Shooting

Yesterday, Biden met with the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, a group of House Democrats, including Thompson and Representative Ron Barber of Arizona, who was wounded in the same 2011 shooting that injured his-then boss, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, also an Arizona Democrat.

Thompson, along with a number of Democrats including California Senator Barbara Boxer, encouraged the administration to include measures on school safety, such as funding more police officers in public schools and installing classroom doors that lock from the inside.

The Biden meeting was one of several the vice president hosted with stakeholders in the gun debate, including victims groups as well as the NRA.

Once Obama releases his recommendations, the focus will shift to Congress, where a number of members are already planning to offer legislation. Among them is Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who has said she will introduce a bill expanding the classification of assault weapons and prohibiting their sale and importation.

President’s Powers

Biden has told lawmakers the administration intends to use White House powers to act on new policies, saying officials have gathered a list of measures that can be taken without congressional approval.

Those options have invited opposition from Republicans, who maintain the president is overreaching the power of his office. Representative Steve Stockman, a Texas Republican, said he’d file articles of impeachment if the president uses executive actions to restrict gun rights.

“The president’s actions are not just an attack on the Constitution and a violation of his sworn oath of office - they are a direct attack on Americans that place all of us in danger,” he said in a statement.

Much of the challenge in the Congress stems from the wide reach of the NRA, both in terms of campaign contributions and its grassroots network.

NRA Support

Forty-seven percent of the members of the House received funding from the NRA’s political action committee in their most recent race, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based group that tracks political giving.

One of the NRA’s top recipients, with $64,000 in contributions over his career, is Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican. Sessions will serve as chairman of the House Rules Committee, giving him authority over which legislation gets to the House floor for a final vote.

While most of the NRA’s contributions are small -- the average PAC contribution in the House was $2,390 -- it keeps a scorecard that rates lawmakers’ votes. Its 4 million members serve as a powerful grassroots network that targets lawmakers who disagree with its positions.

Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor who advised then-President Bill Clinton during passage of the 1993 Crime Bill and 1994 assault weapons ban, urged Obama to limit the congressional debate and seek to achieve as many measures as possible through executive actions.

“Whatever you can do administratively, clear the table, man,” said Emanuel, during an address in Washington yesterday. “Don’t allow a side issue to derail these things.”

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