Obama Will Go Big on Gun Control

NBC News’ Chuck Todd reported that President Obama will announce “the most sweeping” federal gun control legislation since 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

According to Todd, at noon Wednesday the president will call for:

  • Universal background checks on prospective gun buyers
  • Renewal of the assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004
  • A ban on high-capacity magazines that give semiautomatic weapons more than ten rounds of ammunition
  • Tougher enforcement of gun laws already on the books

The first three items would need legislation passed by Congress, including the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

The last—tougher enforcement—can be carried out by the Justice Department, and there’s much room for improvement: As Todd reported, over 70,000 people failed background checks when they tried to purchase a gun in 2009, but only 44 were prosecuted.

No doubt the president will have more ideas that can be carried out through executive orders.  The mere prospect of that already has produced some howls from Second Amendment extremists, including one Texas congressman who threatened to bring articles of impeachment against the president—before he even made his proposals, of course.

But the big news here is that the president plans to go big—very big—on federal gun control legislation. The new bills will go through the Senate first and may piggyback on legislation proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and supported by others.

President Obama at memorial service at Sandy Hook High School (540x405)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) already has downplayed the prospects for passage of an assault-weapons ban—even in the Senate, where Democrats and their allies have 55 seats.

The House of Representatives, with its big Republican majority and strong representation from gun-toting states in the South and West, may be an impossible hurdle to clear.

Still, the president is to be commended for making a big fight on this issue, one month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.  He’s likely to use the bully pulpit of the presidency and his considerable rhetorical skills to get the nation behind him (polls say he does already) and move skittish legislators to take action.

Yes, he may very well lose. But this president has played the inside game too long, not pushing for what he really believes in and trying to get what was “possible.” He often didn’t get that, either, and so satisfied no one.

But this is a new President Obama, who might very well want to get some Republicans on the record with their extreme views about assault weapons, just as they’re expressing their desire for the US to default on its obligations or shut the government down. It may be part of a grand plan to divide and conquer the GOP.

Or it may simply be that the president is carrying out the pledge he made to Newtown families a few weeks ago that he would “use whatever power this office holds” to push for greater gun control even though the politics was hard.

Sometimes the mark of a leader is to fight the good fight and play to win, even when the odds are long.

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