Susan Walsh / AP
Published Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 | 9:11 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 | 11:57 a.m.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced a promised gun control agenda Wednesday, pushing for dozens of changes and updates to current laws, including an expansion of background checks and a resuscitation of bans on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
“In the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality,” Obama said of the recommendations. “No piece of legislation will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil. But if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, we’ve got an obligation to try.”
The proposals, according to Biden, are the result of 229 meetings he and other members of the president’s specially appointed task force had with stakeholders, ranging from members of the pro-gun lobby to victims of gun violence.
“Based on the emerging consensus we heard from all the groups with whom we spoke...we should do as much as we can as quickly as we can,” Biden said. “We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
But what counts as a good — or even an appropriate — response to gun violence is something about which there is little agreement in Washington.
The president specifically called on Congress to “restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and a ten-round limit for magazines” and vote to require “a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun.”
“These are common-sense measures. They have the support of the American people,” Obama said. “And yet that doesn’t mean any of this is going to be easy to enact or implement.”
While there are advocates for gun control in Congress — and the number expressing a desire to address the issue has increased since last month’s tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26, including 20 children — many still represent districts that have a strong culture of gun ownership and have been resistant to change.
Complicating the issue is that the split isn’t along party lines.
Many Democrats from rural states have been as resistant to the idea of gun control as leading Republican voices, while some Republicans from urban areas have been more in step with the president on this issue than with leaders of their own party.
And then there are a whole host of states that fall somewhere in between.
Nevada, for example, has an exceptionally strong gun culture, much of which revolves around hunting and sport-shooting. Nevada also has some of the nation’s loosest gun control laws. But Las Vegas has one of the highest rates of gun deaths per capita for urban areas.
Some members of Nevada’s congressional delegation have commented on the president’s plan to address gun control but not all have said how they would vote on key parts of it.
New Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford has said in the past he would support an assault weapons ban.
On Wednesday, Horsford again voiced strong support for the gun control and background checks that are the most ambitious components of the president's plan.
"Universal background checks can help prevent those who are legally prohibited from buying a gun from obtaining what can become a dangerous weapon," Horsford said in a statement released after the president's comments. "Military-style assault weapons do not belong on our streets, and neither do high-capacity magazines that are designed to inflict maximum damage."
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid committed to at least bring the president’s proposals up for debate in the Senate.
“I am committed to ensuring that the Senate will consider legislation that addresses gun violence,” Reid said in a statement released Wednesday. “All options should be on the table moving forward.”
Reid did not say how he would vote on individual items in the president’s package that require congressional approval. Reid did not vote for the last assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, meanwhile, has said he supports a discussion about violence and mental health but did not mention gun control.
Heller has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, which in the past month came out most strongly against Obama and his heretofore hinted-at gun control plans. Reid maintains a “B” rating.
Obama made a direct plea to constituents of places like Nevada in his announcement Wednesday.
“We’re going to need voices in those areas and those congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong to speak up and say, ‘This is important,’” Obama said. “It can’t just be the usual suspects...Ask them what’s more important? Getting the ‘A’ grade from the gun lobby...or giving parents peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?”
Spokespersons for members of the Nevada delegation did not immediately furnish responses to requests for reactions to the president’s speech.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the speaker’s office would review the president’s recommendations, as well as any bills the Senate might pass.
Regardless of the challenges posed by Congress, Obama sought to get the ball rolling by signing 23 executive orders.
Among them are many steps that seem more clerical than anything else. Obama pledged to release a Justice Department report about lost and stolen guns, clarify provisions of the Affordable Care Act that could be relevant to gun control and encourage members of his cabinet to start a “national dialogue” on mental health.
But others could bring more significant changes right away.
Obama’s executive orders include a pledge to prosecute gun-related crimes more aggressively, provide incentives for states to share more information with the federal background check system and make it easier for schools to hire resource officers to monitor the mental health of students.
Obama also nominated a director for the long-rudderless Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, recommending Acting Director Todd Jones for the job. ATF hasn’t had a director for the last six years. Any nominee would still have to clear a divided Senate.