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Obama weighing executive action on gun control

By: AP
By: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is launching the nation's most sweeping effort to curb gun violence in two decades, setting up a legislative fight with a deeply divided Congress that even some of his staunchest allies expect to fall short of its goals.

The broad package Obama will announce Wednesday, just over a month after the horrific Newtown, Conn., school shootings, is expected to include more than a dozen steps the president can take on his own through executive action. Those measures will provide a pathway for skirting opposing lawmakers, but they will be limited in scope, and in some cases, focused simply on enforcing existing laws.

The proposals that require congressional approval will include a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines along with a requirement for universal background checks on gun buyers. But some gun control advocates worry that opposition from Republicans and conservative Democrats, as well as the National Rifle Association, will be too great to overcome.

"We're not going to get an outright ban," Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., said of limits on assault weapons. Still, McCarthy, a leading voice in Congress in favor of gun control, said she would keep pushing for a ban and hoped Obama would as well.

White House officials, seeking to avoid setting the president up for failure, have emphasized that no single measure - even an assault weapons ban - would solve a scourge of gun violence across the country. But without such a ban, or other sweeping Congress-approved measures, it's unclear whether executive actions alone can make any noticeable difference.

"It is a simple fact that there are limits to what can be done within existing law," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. "Congress has to act on the kinds of measures we've already mentioned because the power to do that is reserved by Congress."

New York's Assembly on Tuesday easily passed the toughest gun control law in the nation and the first since the Connecticut school shootings. The statewide measure includes a tougher assault weapons ban and provisions to try to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people who make threats.

Obama will announce his proposals in a midday event at the White House, flanked by children who wrote to him about gun violence following the massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Obama has pledged urgent action to prevent future mass shootings, and his plan - coming just one month after the Newtown attacks - is swift by Washington standards.

The president's framework is based on recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden, who led a wide-ranging task force on gun violence. Beyond the gun control measures, Biden also gave Obama suggestions for improving mental health care and addressing violent images in video games, movies and television.

The vice president's proposals included 19 steps that could be achieved through executive action.

Obama may order the Justice Department to crack down on people who lie on background checks; only a tiny number are now prosecuted. Such a step has support from the National Rifle Association, which has consistently argued that existing laws must be enforced before new ones are considered.

He also could take steps ordering federal agencies to make more data on gun crimes available and conduct more research on the issue, something Republican congressional majorities have limited through language in budget bills. And he may order tougher penalties against gun trafficking and give schools flexibility to use grant money to improve safety.

Gun control proponent Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who met with Biden on Monday, said the president is also likely to take executive action to ensure better state reporting of mental health and other records that go into the federal background check database. But he, too, acknowledged there were clear limits to what Obama can do without Congress' say-so.

"You can't change the law through executive order," Scott said.

White House officials signaled that Obama would seek to rally public support for the measures he puts forward, perhaps holding events around the country or relying on Organizing for America, his still-operational presidential campaign.

"The president's success in using this strategy, I think, is pretty notable," Carney said of Obama's efforts to engage the public in previous legislative fights. "He'll absolutely continue to engage with the American people on the policy proposals he's putting forward."

Still, it's unclear how much political capital Obama will exert in pressing for congressional action.

The White House and Capitol Hill will soon be consumed by three looming fiscal deadlines, each of which is expected to be contentious. And the president has also pledged to tackle comprehensive immigration reform early this year, another effort that will require Republicans' support and one in which Obama may be more likely to get their backing.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the chamber's top Republican, has warned the White House that it will be at least three months before the Senate considers gun legislation. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said it is immigration, not gun control, that is at the top of his priority list after the fiscal fights.

House Republican leaders are expected to wait for any action by the Senate before deciding how - or whether - to proceed with any gun measure. Publicly, House GOP leaders are being careful not to rule anything out ahead of Obama's announcement.

"I can't respond to any particulars because I haven't even looked at the Biden recommendations, but I can tell you we're all very concerned about the deaths that occurred and the innocent lives lost, and if we bear that in mind, the kinds of things we can do to help make that not happen again," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Tuesday.

Privately, House Republicans voice skepticism that the debate will even get to the point of Senate action that would require a response by the House.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Facing powerful opposition to sweeping gun regulations, President Barack Obama is weighing 19 steps that could be taken through executive action alone, congressional officials said.

Those steps could include ordering stricter action against people who lie on gun sale background checks, striking limits on federal research into gun use, ordering tougher penalties against gun trafficking, and giving schools flexibility to use grant money to improve safety.

Obama is expected to unveil his proposals as early as Wednesday, barely over a month since the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., thrust the gun issue into the national spotlight after years of inaction by Obama and lawmakers.

At the same time Obama is vowing not to back off his support for sweeping gun legislation that would require congressional backing - including banning assault weapons, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines and instituting universal background checks - despite opposition from the influential gun lobby.

"Will all of them get through this Congress? I don't know," Obama said at a news conference Monday.

"My starting point is not to worry about the politics," he said. "My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works."

The president said he would unveil a comprehensive roadmap for curbing gun violence within days. His plan will be based on recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden's gun task force and is expected to include both legislative proposals and steps Obama can implement by himself, using his presidential powers.

White House officials believe moving swiftly on gun proposals at a national level, before the shock over the Newtown shooting fades, gives Obama the best chance to get his proposals through Congress.

Officials said Obama and Biden met Monday afternoon to discuss the vice president's recommendations. Ahead of that meeting, Biden huddled with a dozen House Democrats who have formed their own gun violence task force and whose political muscle will be needed to push legislation through Congress.

Biden told those lawmakers that he and his staff had identified 19 steps Obama could take without help from Congress, according to Jenny Werwa, communications director to Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., one of those present. Biden didn't indicate which of those Obama would adopt.

Among other steps, advocacy groups have been pushing Obama to order the Justice Department to crack down on those who lie on background checks; only a tiny number are now prosecuted. Such a step has support from the National Rifle Association, which has consistently argued that existing laws must be enforced before new ones are considered.

Obama also could take steps ordering federal agencies to make more data on gun crimes available and conduct more research on the issue, something Republican congressional majorities have limited through language in budget bills, advocates said.

The president's proposals are also expected to include steps for improving school safety and mental health care, as well as recommendations for addressing violence in entertainment and video games.

A Democratic lawmaker who met with Biden on Monday said the vice president was likely to have given Obama proposals for allowing schools flexibility in spending federal grant money so they could take steps toward safety, including hiring school resource officers, instituting mental health intervention or making repairs like putting locks on doors. Grants could also go to communities to institute programs to get guns away from people who shouldn't have them, said the lawmaker, adding these were steps the president could take without Congress.

The lawmaker spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposals hadn't been announced publicly.

But the most sweeping and contentious elements - including an assault weapons ban - will require approval from Congress. The NRA has vowed to fight any measure that would limit access to guns and ammunition, a hardline position that could sway some Republicans and conservative Democrats.

The assault weapons ban, which Obama has long supported, is expected to face the toughest road on Capitol Hill. Congress passed a 10-year ban on the high-grade, military-style weapons in 1994, but supporters didn't have the votes to renew it once it expired.

Obama will also need congressional help to limit high-capacity ammunition magazines, like the ones used by the Newtown shooter, and to require background checks for anyone seeking to purchase a gun. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said some 40 percent of gun sales happen with no background checks, such as at gun shows and by private sellers over the Internet or through classified ads.

Parents of the slain Connecticut children added their voices to the national dialogue Monday. Members of the newly formed group Sandy Hook Promise called for an open-minded discussion about a range of issues, including guns. And lawmakers in New York state pressed ahead with what would be the nation's first gun control measure approved since the school shootings.


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