Big Week for Gun Control, and the Debate Is Moving Left

Big Week for Gun Control, and the Debate Is Moving Left

Big Week for Gun Control, and the Debate Is Moving Left

A strong set of reform proposals from an influential center-left think tank raises pressure on politicians to create real change.


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (pictured when he was White House Chief of Staff) will order Chicago pension funds to divest from all gun manufacturing. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert.)

Search around the Center for American Progress website for position papers or blog posts on gun control pre-2012. You won’t find much. But Monday morning in downtown Washington—emblematic of the huge post-Newtown shift in the gun control debate—the influential center-left think tank* released a sweeping new set of gun control proposals that set a clear pro-reform benchmark for the debate over how to reduce gun violence.

The CAP plan calls for an expanded background check system in which every gun sold in America would subject the buyer to a background check; assault weapon and high-capacity magazine bans; and improved federal research into gun violence and better enforcement of gun laws. Vice President Joe Biden will announce his task force’s plan tomorrow, and it will be politically hard to propose significantly less than what’s in the CAP plan.

The proposals were rolled out at an event featuring CAP president Neera Tanden, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Representative Mike Thompson, chair of the House gun control task force.

Emanuel also made some big news during the event: he announced that he will order all Chicago municipal pension funds to divest from any investments that can be tied to gun manufacturers—and not just the makers of assault weapons but all guns. He plans to “lead a charge among all mayors” to follow suit.

You can read the full details here, but highlights of the CAP plan include:

The plan calls for a healthy mix of both legislative and executive action. At the unveiling this morning, Thompson and Emanuel played subtle roles as good cop and bad cop.

Thompson, from a rural California district, spoke often about compromise and common ground. “We need to be smart on this and focus on what we can do,” he said.

Thompson ticked off areas where he thinks Democrats and Republicans in the House can agree: on stronger background checks, better mental health screenings and even high-capacity magazine bans. Thompson noted that as a hunter, he can keep only three shotgun shells loaded while duck hunting—meaning that, in practical effect, the government enforces “more protection for ducks than for citizens.”

Thompson has backed an assault weapons ban, but perhaps in a worrying sign for reformers, he did not spend any real time advocating for it this morning. Twice, he left it off a list of things he thought the House could agree on.

This is not necessarily an inaccurate assessment. But Emanuel indirectly laid out a path around that obstacle. He strongly advocated starting the legislative process in the Senate, where a stronger bill can be produced. (While Emanuel didn’t dive into the specifics, a handful of moderate Democrats plus a very small number of Republicans could almost certainly produce a more pro-reform bill than anything agreed to by the Republican majority in the House—and that’s assuming there’s no filibuster reform. If only fifty-one votes are needed, the bill will be even stronger).

Then, Emanuel said, with a tough Senate bill on the table, reformers can put “the ultimate pressure on the House.” The public is strongly behind an assault weapons ban and better background checks, and Emanuel believes once the Senate passes a bill, reformers can “put the burner up” and try to force the House to go along.

Emanuel is no stranger to these debates. He served as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff during the 1993 and 1994 battles over the Brady gun laws and then the assault weapons ban, which was part of a larger crime bill.

He also advised that, as gun control reformers did in 1994, it’s helpful to show the public what assault weapons look like during press conferences—display the military-looking weapons prominently—and then put uniformed police officers front and center to talk about the dangerous presence of those guns on the street.

Once the bill is passed, Emanuel said it’s crucial for members of Congress to stand behind it to avoid self-enforcing a perception that gun control is a political liability. “When the passage comes,” he said, “don’t everybody run around or run away.”

* Full disclosure, I was employed by CAP from August 2010 until April 2011 as a ThinkProgress blogger.

Gun control in the United States was heavily influenced by the NRA and Republican shift toward self-protection and vigilanteism. What does the future hold? George Zornick trades thoughts with fellow Nation bloggers Rick Perlstein and Bryce Covert on the latest Nation Conversations podcast.

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