Obama to announce gun control plans Wednesday

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 2:56pm

A package of gun control proposals, including a ban on assault weapons, will be unveiled on Wednesday by President Barack Obama in response to the last month's Connecticut school massacre, the White House announced.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will announce the proposals, and will be joined by a group of children who wrote letters to the president in the aftermath of the December 14 shooting rampage by a lone gunman who killed 20 students and six adults at a Newtown elementary school, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday.

The package will include proposed legislative steps, such as a ban on assault weapons, and will address the issue of high-capacity ammunition magazines as well as strengthen federal background checks of people attempting to buy guns, Carney said.

Biden led a panel assembled by Obama to examine gun control steps after the Newtown shootings.

The package put together by Biden's team included as many as 19 executive actions that Obama could take without congressional approval, such as tougher enforcement of existing laws, legislators briefed by the vice president said Tuesday.

The president could demand that agencies provide data for background checks that are supposed to accompany gun sales, ensuring that information included in the checks is as "comprehensive and complete as possible," Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson of California told CNN.

Obama also could immediately appoint a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has been without a permanent chief for six years, Thompson said.

A Democratic member of Congress who attended Monday's meeting with Biden said some of the 19 executive actions discussed included improving the way the government administers current law.

The legislator, speaking on condition of not being identified, cited loopholes in the federal database for background checks on gun sales as well as issues involving mental health checks as possibilities for executive action.

Biden also discussed possible legislative action for Congress, including reinstating a Clinton-era ban on military style assault weapons that expired in 2004, banning large-capacity ammunition magazines, tightening laws banning someone with a clean record from buying a gun for someone without a clean record, and broadening campus safety laws.

None of the legislators mentioned the National Rifle Association's call for armed guards at school as an option under consideration.

Obama has not ruled out issuing executive orders on some gun control measures to enforce laws already on the books, such as bolstering the way gun sales are tracked.

The president reiterated his desire on Monday for more robust background checks for gun buyers, keeping high capacity magazines away from criminals, and a ban on assault weapons.

"Will all of them get through this Congress? I don't know," Obama said. "But what's uppermost in my mind is making sure that I'm honest with the American people and members of Congress about what I think will work, what I think is something that will make a difference."

Another Democratic legislator who met on Monday with Biden, Rep. Jackie Speier of California, said Biden's proposals include 19 possible executive actions by Obama.

"He didn't go into all of them," Speier told CNN. "Certainly they will be considered by the president."

Working with Congress will be paramount in curbing gun violence, Thompson said, singling out a ban on high capacity magazines as an example of a measure that could garner Republican support. A full-scale assault weapon ban would be tougher to pass the GOP-controlled House, he argued.

"I think we have to concentrate on what is most important in saving lives. If you take the assault magazine out of the rifle, the rifle will have less capacity than it would have otherwise. I think that is absolutely important. We need to prioritize on this," Thompson said.

Obama also said on Monday that the gun lobby was "ginning up" fears the federal government will use the Connecticut tragedy to seize Americans' guns. At least part of the frenzy is little more than marketing, he implied.

"It's certainly good for business," the president said, responding to a question about a spike in weapons sales and applications for background checks since the December 14 killings.

"Part of the challenge we confront is that even the slightest hint of some sensible, responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that somehow, 'Here it comes, everybody's guns are going to be taken away,'" Obama said.

While the final recommendations have not been made public, Biden has said he's found widespread support for universal background checks and restrictions on the sale of high capacity magazines, which gun control advocates believe contribute to more bloodshed at mass shootings.

Obama said he backs such measures as well as renewing the Clinton-era assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

The influential NRA, among other gun rights groups, has vowed to fight any new gun restrictions -- like an assault weapon ban.

Gun control advocates, gun violence victims, the NRA, video game makers and others have met with the Biden-led task force.

In New York, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday that more than 1 million people have signed a petition backed by his group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, to tighten gun control laws in the wake of the Newtown shooting rampage.'

"For many Americans, this is the straw that broke the camel's back," he said.

A new Gallup poll released Monday showed 38% of Americans were dissatisfied with current gun laws and support stricter proposals. That was a 13 percentage point jump from a year ago.

The shift included a 17 percentage point increase in support for stricter gun control laws among men, compared to 10 percentage points for women, who traditionally have been more supportive of gun control legislation.

In New York -- where a week ago, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo spelled out tough new gun control proposals -- the state Senate passed a series of new gun regulations in a 43-18 vote Monday night. The bill now goes to the state Assembly.

The tentative New York plan would include a statewide assault weapons registry and add a uniform licensing standard across the state -- altering the current system, in which each county or municipality sets a standard -- a state Senate source said.

Magazines could have no more than seven bullets under the would-be agreement, according to the source, among other provisions.

Discussions had percolated about crafting a law, similar to one in California, that allows mental health professionals to inform law enforcement if they believe their patient could pose a threat to themselves or others, the source said

Law enforcement authorities may then revoke the patient's license to carry a firearm and prevent them from having a gun for at least six months.

The federal government estimates that more than 300 million non-military guns are owned or available for purchase in the United States.

Across the country, more than a million people failed background checks to buy guns during the past 14 years because of criminal records, drug use or mental health issues, according to FBI figures.

Nearly 60 percent of those failing background checks, or about 578,000 people, were rejected because of a felony or serious misdemeanor conviction, according to information on the FBI website that was updated this month.

Federally-licensed gun sellers are not allowed to sell a firearm without a completed review by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Statistics showed about 1 percent of applicants who failed a background check, or 10,180 people, were turned down for reasons related to mental health.

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CNN's Carol Cratty and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
 

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