Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Obama Made His Move. (So Who's Next?)

President Obama came out swinging today in announcing his plan for better gun safety. And he mentioned an unlikely ally in doing so.

Less than 20 years ago, Former President Ronald Reagan urged Congress to pass the Assault Weapons Ban. And the late 40th President is still revered by his Republican Party today. Yet today, at least some of them are actually talking about impeachment of President Obama (??!!) over taking any kind of action on gun safety.

Unfortunately for them, Obama just called their bluff.

The list of proposals from Vice President Biden's task force on gun violence is not short, but it includes universal background checks, a ban on "military-style" assault weapons, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, and strengthening existing penalties for gun trafficking.

The president also took 23 executive actions -- which will not require congressional approval -- though nearly all are fairly modest in scope. They include providing gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers, nominating an ATF director (the Senate has refused to confirm an ATF director for six years), informing state health officials about the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover, and launching "a national dialogue ... on mental health."

Obama conceded that the bulk of the reforms must be approved by lawmakers and challenged them to act.

As the next phase begins in earnest, there will be plenty of speculation about what, if anything, can get through Congress, but in the meantime, it's worth appreciating the president's ambition on stemming the tide of gun violence. Obama didn't narrow his focus to a few ideas in the hopes that modesty might win over skeptics, he swung for the fences, unveiling "the most sweeping effort at gun control policy reform in a generation."

Obama has signaled he's serious about tackling gun safety. And he pretty much declared today that he's ready to "shift the Overton Window" on gun safety. For nearly two decades, the gun lobby has stricken fear in the hearts of politicians of both parties. That's why what happened today is so monumental.

“We are extremely happy both with his report and with the remarks he gave at the White House press conference that just concluded,” Ladd Everitt, spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told TPM minutes after Obama finished outlining his plans.

“The executive order he signed today is critically important and, in conjunction with the legislative package he has referred to Congress, could put our nation on a path to a place where days like December 14, 2012 will no longer be possible,” Everitt said, referring to the date of the Newtown shooting.

The Brady Campaign, one of the nation’s oldest gun control advocacy groups, was also effusive after Obama’s remarks.

“The White House has shown tremendous leadership in convening stakeholders and engaging the country in a conversation that the Brady Campaign and so many Americans have been calling for in the wake of Aurora, Newtown, and the 32 gun murders that happen every day in our country,” Brady president Dan Gross said in a statement.

For far too long, gun safety advocates have been seen as the "ugly stepchildren" of gun policy. Hopefully, this perception can finally change.

In recent days, Harry Reid has been cagey on what kind of gun safety reforms he will allow onto the Senate floor. And other Nevada Democrats have been afraid to speak up on the NRA's "legislative bully tactics" here at home. Will that change starting today? One can hope.

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