President Obama on Wednesday will formally announce the most aggressive and expansive national gun-control agenda in generations as he presses Congress to mandate background checks for all firearms buyers and prohibit assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
The announcement will set off a fierce confrontation with Congress over an issue that has riven American society for decades. Obama’s far-reaching firearms agenda has at best tepid support from his party leaders and puts him at loggerheads with Democratic centrists.
Days before his second inauguration, Obama is seeking to drive the gun debate in a way that contrasts with the accommodating approach he often took during his first term. In the weeks ahead, he will attempt to rally popular support to bend the will of lawmakers to vote for what he considers the ideal, not merely the possible.
“Yes, we can reduce gun violence, but it’s something we have to do together,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday. “It’s something that cannot be done by a president alone. It can’t be done by a single community alone or a mayor or a governor or by Congress alone. We all have to work together.”
Obama will begin this effort Wednesday in the presence of children who wrote him letters after last month’s mass shooting at a grade school in Newtown, Conn., and who have been invited to Washington to attend the rollout.
In addition to background checks and restrictions on military-style guns and ammunition magazines, Obama is expected to propose mental health and school safety initiatives such as more federal funding for police officers in schools, according to lawmakers and interest group leaders whom White House officials briefed on the plans.
Bruce Reed, Vice President Biden’s chief of staff, told liberal activists late Tuesday that Obama’s package would also include a federal gun trafficking measure to stop straw-man purchases and crack down on trafficking rings after a number of mayors raised the issue, said a person familiar with the plan.
Obama also is expected to present up to 19 executive actions that his administration will take, the lawmakers and advocates said. These steps include enhanced federal scientific research on gun violence and a modernized federal database system to track guns, criminals and the mentally ill.
Most of these actions are relatively narrow in scope, however, and experts have said that without accompanying legislation they will do little to curb gun violence, at least in the near term.
Asked about the constraints on Obama’s executive powers, Carney said, “It is a simple fact that there are limits on what can be done within existing law.”
After Biden led a month-long task force, Obama decided to push an expansive agenda that in many ways represents his liberal base’s wish list rather than proposals that may be more politically viable to a divided Congress.
Obama’s proposals amount to the most comprehensive federal regulations of the firearms industry since 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson acted in the aftermath of high-profile assassinations.