President Obama unveiled his package of proposals to reduce gun violence today, a mix of executive actions he can undertake unilaterally (23 of them) and ideas that will require new laws passed through Congress. I'll tell you what I think about the package as a whole in a moment, but here are the major provisions:
- Universal background checks. Right now, about 40 percent of gun sales—those at gun shows, or between two private citizens—require no background check. This is a significant change.
- A new assault weapons ban. The ban in place between 1994 and 2004 was riddled with loopholes. This one is likely to be much stricter, making it harder to get new military-style weapons. But it won't affect the millions of such guns already in circulation.
- A ban on high-capacity magazines. Magazines would be limited to 10 rounds.
- A renewal of effective data-gathering and research into gun violence. Today, not only is the FBI required to destroy all background check information within 24 hours, the CDC is effectively banned from researching the causes and consequences of gun violence. Obama is directing the CDC to begin such research again.
There are a bunch of other proposals, particularly in those 23 executive actions, many of which are rather minor and involve clarifying existing policies. Immediately after he finished his statement, he signed the executive orders, but those were the easy things. The more difficult and consequential parts—the assault-weapons and high-capacity magazine bans, the universal background checks—will require Congress. It's going to be extremely hard to get such laws passed, though the background-check provision is the one most likely to succeed.
So how could you overcome that opposition? The fact is that a majority of the House of Representatives isn't inclined to go along. So there are two things you can do: boot enough of them out of office in the next election or two to change that calculation, or you can raise the cost of opposing these measures, making at least some of them decide that even if they don't like it, the politics make it difficult to oppose.
That takes a national, sustained campaign, one that drives the debate and mobilizes voters. Do the White House and its allies have it in them? I'd like to be optimistic about that. Maybe things really have changed. Maybe.