President Obama speaks at the White House alongside Vice President Biden on January 16, 2012, about a new push to control gun violence. Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing.
One month and two days after the shootings in Newtown, the White House unveiled a broad strategic plan for reducing gun violence—and unlike too many other moments in his presidency, Obama went big. The policy proposals are ambitious, as was the presidential rhetoric used to ask for them.
The major features of the plan include:
An assault weapons ban: “Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater,” Obama said, in an obvious reference to the seventy-one people shot in Aurora, Colorado, this summer, while noting that Ronald Reagan also favored such a ban. Obama asked Congress to pass another assault weapons ban—the last one expired in 2004—and to close the loopholes that existed last time. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s legislation is a near-certain vehicle for this proposal.
Ban on high-capacity magazines: Obama proposes capping magazine clips at ten bullets, which is also a feature of Feinstein’s bill.
Universal background checks: Obama noted that 40 percent of the gun sales in America are conducted “privately,” and thus buyers are not subject to background checks. The White House flags this as the “single most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence.” Obama asked Congress to not only close the gun show loophole but require background checks for all gun sales, with narrow exceptions for transfers between family members and temporary transfers for hunting purposes.
Ban armor-piercing bullets: This is something the law enforcement community is strongly behind—police don’t want bullets that can break through their vests being fired at them. Obama wants Congress to ban not only the sale of these bullets, but also ownership and transfer—in other words, a total ban. It’s a good policy idea, but also one that focuses the public debate on some of the truly absurd weapons Americans are allowed to easily obtain.
Fund police officers: Obama wants Congress to pass $4 billion to fund police enforcement around the country. This is a slight (very slight) paean to the NRA proposal to put armed officers in every school in America, but also dovetails with the administration’s long-standing pleas for Congress to fund public sector employment in the cash-strapped states. Similarly, Obama wants Congress to fund 1,000 new school counselors and $50 million spent on an anti-bullying initiative.
Obama also signed twenty-three executive orders on gun control, beyond what he’s asking Congress for. The highlights include directives to state health programs to make sure there is parity between mental and physical health services under Medicaid; a raft of orders designed to beef up compliance with the FBI’s criminal background check system; and increased law enforcement of existing gun laws.