Explainer

01.16.13

7 Key Points From Obama’s Gun Proposal

Twenty-three executive orders, that sure is a lot. Caitlin Dickson digs into Obama’s gun-control proposal to see what he can do right away—and what he’ll have to beg Congress for.

Last month, President Obama assigned Vice President Joe Biden to head up a task force aimed at crafting a list of recommended actions—for both the president and Congress—to crack down on gun violence. On Wednesday, the two men held their much-anticipated press conference, revealing some of those proposals before Obama sat down to sign them. (Really, he signed them right after the presser.)

The president clarified that some of the proposals can be enacted through executive order and will be issued immediately, while others require the cooperation of Congress and should be expected to take, uh, some time.

So, what’s in the list? Of the 23 executive orders Obama signed today, here are the ones he emphasized most. Check out the full list in detail here.

1. No More Loopholes!

First, Obama announced plans to strengthen the current, loophole-ridden background-check system by requiring background checks on all gun sales. This is something he can do mostly on his own. Specifically, the Department of Justice will provide states with $20 million worth of incentives to provide criminal records and mental-health information and other data relevant to determining whether a person is fit to purchase a gun. Obama is also ordering that federal agencies make any relevant records they may have available to the background-check system and regularly confirm that they are up to date. In order to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, Obama is directing the attorney general to review and revamp existing laws to make sure that everyone who should be prohibited from owning a gun is actually prohibited.

2. A Return of the Assault-Weapons Ban?

The president’s call on Congress to reinstate and strengthen the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004 was perhaps the most noteworthy part of the package. As Obama noted, that ban was supported by Second Amendment advocate and right-wing hero Ronald Reagan. “Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater,” Obama said. Does it stand a chance to pass? Hard to say, but bringing up Reagan’s name was an unambiguous signal to Republicans to get behind the bill.

3. And the Bullets, Too

Obama also asked Congress to ban any ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds. That’s a drastic cut, considering that James Holmes, for example, used a magazine with 100 rounds to shoot up the Aurora movie theater. Then again, New York has already limited the legal amount of ammunition in magazines to seven rounds.

4. Helping Cops

This one sounds reasonable, but it costs money, so we’ll have to see about it. The president urged Congress to pass his administration’s $4 billion proposal to keep 15,000 cops on the streets. Separately, and on his own, he said he will use executive action to improve gun-tracing data to help law-enforcement officers both track down perpetrators of violent crimes and avoid returning guns to people who shouldn’t have them. Plus, Obama would ban armor-piercing bullets, asking Congress to “finish the job” by instituting a federal law that makes the bullets illegal to possess or transfer. (They’re currently illegal to manufacture and import.)

5. New Research

“We don’t benefit from ignorance,” Obama said, announcing his plan to skirt Congress’s longtime ban on researching the science and psychology behind gun violence. The Center for Disease Control has long been barred by Congress from researching topics that appear to “advocate or promote gun control,” but Obama cites legal research that allows him to overrule that policy.

6. Get a Guy in the ATF

This one is for Congress, too: Obama asked the Senate to appoint a director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and will nominate B. Todd Jones—Minnesota’s U.S. attorney—for the job. Fun fact: the Senate hasn’t confirmed an ATF director since 2006.

7. Helping Schools

To better protect students, Obama is proposing that Congress allocate $50 million for schools to help them hire more resource officers—“if they want them”— train more school counselors, and develop comprehensive emergency plans.

Now, the president made sure to insist that he believes in the Second Amendment and that—despite what the opposition might say—he does not intend to restrict the rights of responsible gun owners, whether they are hunters, collectors, or simply exercisers of their right to self defense.

And he wants your help.

“I will put everything I’ve got into this, and so will Joe,” Obama said, “but the only way we can change is if the American people demand it—and that doesn’t just mean people from certain parts of the country. People from places where the tradition of gun ownership is strong need to speak up. This will not happen unless the American people demand it.”