Obama also urged lawmakers to require that all gun sales be subject to background checks in order to ensure that prospective buyers are not within the existing categories of disqualified purchasers, such as those with criminal histories or those facing mental health problems. Background checks now capture about 60 percent of all gun sales but are not conducted for private, person-to-person sales, including those at gun shows.
The background check proposal is the top policy priority of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a prominent advocacy group that is working closely with the administration and is seen as the biggest counterweight to the powerful National Rifle Association.
Obama also announced that he would ask Congress to pass a federal gun trafficking law and to confirm the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Todd Jones, on a permanent basis. The agency has lacked a permanent director for six years, and Jones has juggled his interim position with another job as a federal prosecutor in Minnesota.
Among the executive actions that Obama took immediately Wednesday was a lifting of a congressionally ordered ban on funding for research on guns.
The timetable for the president’s agenda also began to come into focus on Wednesday. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said his panel will start hearings on gun control in two weeks.
“We should do as much as we can as quickly as we can,” Biden said.
Biden As Emissary
Obama’s recommendations are the product of four weeks of evaluation by a Cabinet-level task force on gun violence headed by Biden, who is expected to serve as one of the administration’s key negotiators with Congress over the proposals. Biden’s task force held 22 official meetings and met with more than 220 stakeholders, a senior administration official said.
The longtime former senator from Delaware — who played a central role in the last sweeping gun-control effort to become law, in 1994 — reached a difficult compromise with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in December to avert a set of steep tax hikes and spending cuts that were set to take effect this year.
But Biden will face a much tougher road to find middle ground on gun control, a subject that Democrats have largely avoided since 1994, when passage of a broad crime bill, including the original assault weapons ban, played a hand in their crushing electoral losses that fall.
Even leaving aside the outspoken opposition that many Republicans have expressed to most forms of gun control, Democrats are far from unified within their own conference when it comes to new restrictions on firearms and ammunition. Exactly half of the Democrat-led Senate has “A-minus” or higher ratings from the NRA and would not easily vote for legislative proposals that the organization is expected to strongly oppose.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.