x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Obama poised to reveal US gun violence strategy

Barack Obama may reveal, as early as today, details of the most far-reaching gun restriction laws in nearly 20 years. Taimur Khan reports from New York

Parents of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have joined a grassroots initiative called the Sandy Hook Promise to support solutions for a safer community.
Parents of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have joined a grassroots initiative called the Sandy Hook Promise to support solutions for a safer community.

NEW YORK // Barack Obama is expected to reveal, as early as today, the details of how the US will address gun violence based on recommendations from a task force for the most far-reaching gun restriction laws in nearly 20 years.

The recommendations from the White House task force, which is led by vice president Joe Biden, was also expected to include executive actions that would bypass Republican legislators who oppose tougher gun laws.

Speaking on Monday on the one-month anniversary of the shooting rampage at a Connecticut school that killed 20 children and sparked national outrage and calls for tougher laws, Mr Obama endorsed the idea of banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as stricter background checks on buyers.

But Republicans, who form a majority in the lower body of Congress, have nearly unanimously said that they will oppose a ban on assault weapons. Even the Democratic Senate majority leader said last week he thought attempts to pass that legislation would be doomed.

Addressing the coming Congressional fight over any new gun legislation, Mr Obama said that legislators would have to "examine their own conscience". "My starting point is not to worry about the politics but to focus on what makes sense and what works," Mr Obama said. "What should we be doing to make sure our children are safe and reduce incidents of gun violence? "

The task force plan, however, includes 19 recommendations that the president could take without approval from Congress, said Democratic legislators who were briefed by Mr Biden on Monday.

These could include new rules on limiting the import of guns from abroad, forcing various federal agencies to streamline the sharing of mental-health records and tightening enforcement of existing laws, such as prosecution of people who lie on background checks, The New York Times reported White House aides as saying.

While the prospects for a renewed ban on assault weapons - the previous ban expired in 2004 - appear dim, a new poll showed broad bipartisan support among Americans for the ban, as well as stationing of armed guards at all schools.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 52 per cent of Americans say the school shooting in Newtown has made them more supportive of gun control. Only five per cent said they are less likely to support stricter laws after the massacre.

Fifty eight per cent said they supported a total ban on assault weapons, while 39 per cent said they oppose it.

While the poll showed that most Americans think Congress should focus on economic issues, it also indicated that with the memory of the Newtown rampage so fresh, there is a window for the administration to pressure legislators who have refused to address the issue for decades.

But advocates of gun control will have to confront the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA), a pressure group that has spent vast sums of money on lobbying members of Congress against any new laws.

After meeting with Mr Biden earlier this month, the NRA released a statement saying his task force was spending its time "on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms holders — honest, taxpaying, hard-working Americans" and that the meeting "had [little] to do with keeping our children safe and [much] to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment", referring to the US Constitution which guarantees the right of citizens to bear arms.

Passing any ban on assault weapons would require high levels of focus and expenditure of political capital, with even many Democratic senators opposed. Some liberal commentators have called on the president to instead focus on achievable controls, such as universal background checks.

tkhan@thenational.ae