WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has conducted informal discussions with groups from both ends of the gun-policy spectrum, including law enforcement and gun-rights organizations, and is set to hold formal meetings as early as this week in an effort to chart out a set of new firearms policies, administration officials say.
Spearheaded by the Department of Justice, the talks were described by one individual involved in the discussions as a “feeling-out process.” With more official meetings set to begin shortly, they provide the clearest indication to date that the White House is readying a response to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others at Tucson in early January.
“As the president said, we should focus on sound, effective steps that will keep guns out of the hands of the criminals, fugitives, people with serious mental illness, and others who have no business possessing a gun and who are prohibited by laws on the books from owning a gun,” Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “We will be meeting with stakeholders on all sides of the issue to discuss how we can find sensible, intelligent ways to make the country safer.”
The goal is to finalize a set of policy changes, including, perhaps, legislation that could pass through a Congress hostile to abridgments of Second Amendment rights. The last serious bite at the apple occurred following the shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007.
In a Sunday op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star, President Barack Obama called for a three-pronged approach: enforcing the laws already on the books, including the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; pushing for greater state-to-state coordination; and expediting background checks and the release of relevant data.
“It was a promising sign that the president understands that 86 percent of the public, including around 80 percent of gun owners, think that a simple background check for every purchase includes next to zero burden for law-abiding citizens and can save countless live,” said Mark Glaze, the executive director of the coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG).
The contours laid out in the op-ed are similar to the plan currently being pushed by MAIG and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer, who has also been in touch with DOJ officials, held a press conference with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg several weeks ago announcing plans to beef up the national background-check system, including eliminating a loophole that allows individuals to buy firearms at gun shows without submitting to a background check.
Though official talks have not yet begun, the Obama administration is expected to aim mostly at such low-hanging fruit, leaving issues like the legality of the high-capacity magazine -- which allows even pistols to fire more than 30 shots without reloading, and was used in the Tucson shootings in January -- to remain unaddressed for the time being. The principal debate, then, will likely center around the application of background-check standards to private dealers.
“They have been meeting with us and also with law enforcement groups and industry,” one gun-control advocate said of the administration. “This is what the White House does when they want to put a serious legislative apparatus together ... The game now becomes effectively demonstrating, in a way that is meaningful, what we know is the overwhelming support for universal background checks.”