The White House has identified 19 executive actions for President Barack Obama to move unilaterally on gun control, Vice President Joe Biden told a group of House Democrats on Monday, the administration’s first definitive statements about its response to last month’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Later this week, Obama will formally announce his proposals to reduce gun violence, which are expected to include renewal of the assault weapons ban, universal background checks and prohibition of high-capacity magazine clips. But Biden, who has been leading Obama’s task force on the response, spent two hours briefing a small group of sympathetic House Democrats on the road ahead in the latest White House outreach to invested groups.
The focus on executive orders is the result of the White House and other Democrats acknowledging the political difficulty of enacting any new gun legislation, a topic Biden did not address in Monday’s meeting.
The executive actions could include giving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority to conduct national research on guns, more aggressive enforcement of existing gun laws and pushing for wider sharing of existing gun databases among federal and state agencies, members of Congress in the meeting said.
“It was all focusing on enforcing existing law, administering things like improving the background database, things like that that do not involve a change in the law but enforcing and making sure that the present law is administered as well as possible,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).
The White House declined to comment on the details of what Obama will propose.
But Biden did indicate that the remains of the Obama campaign apparatus may be activated in the effort.
“He said that this has been a real focus on the policy and that the politics of this issue, that a strategy on the politics of the issue hasn’t been undertaken yet,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told POLITICO. “He did remind us that the campaign infrastructure is still accessible.”
Biden did not address two of the more significant issues in the gun debate: the appointment of a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the role violent images in the entertainment industry play in the nation’s gun violence.
Obama touched on his expected legislative guns agenda at his own news conference in the East Room on Monday, while stressing the power he has via executive order.
“How we are gathering data, for example, on guns that fall into the hands of criminals, and how we track that more effectively — there may be some steps that we can take administratively as opposed through legislation,” Obama said.
Even Democrats who back gun control concede that reinstating an assault weapons ban — the 1994 law expired in 2004 — will be a heavy lift for the White House. During his meeting with gun-rights groups last week, Biden mentioned only an assault weapons ban when telling the NRA and other organizations that Obama has “made up his mind” to support it.
“I think everybody acknowledges that the assault weapons ban is a challenge, but other things — like the size of the magazines, the background checks, straw purchases — are all things that have a good chance of passing,” Scott said.
Speier said she told Biden the White House should do as much as it can on its own.
“I urged him to do as much by executive order as possible,” she said. “Frankly, I don’t have a lot of confidence that this Congress is going to do anything significant.”
And Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said the magazine ban and universal background checks would be far more effective than an assault weapons ban without the political cost.
“Probably the most recognizable thing you can say in this debate is ban assault weapons,” Thompson said. “But the other two issues” — forbidding high-capacity ammunition magazines and requiring universal background checks for gun purchases — “those two things have more impact on making our neighborhoods safe than everything else combined. Anytime you try and prohibit what kind of gun people has it generates some concern.”
Biden’s personal gun violence outreach now includes the families of the 26 victims of the Dec. 14 school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Biden told the Monday meeting that he’s been reaching out to the families. A White House official confirmed the vice president has been in touch directly with some of the families.
“The vice president mentioned that he has called every one of the families that has lost children in Connecticut, and that the conversations have lasted no less than 45 minutes,” Speier said.