In response to the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama has proposed 23 Executive Actions to deal with gun violence. If fully enacted, these proposals would address gun violence by providing additional funds for security measures at schools; tightening background checks for gun purchases, including requiring checks for gun transactions conducted by private sellers; increasing research efforts on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies; banning armor-piercing bullets; and reinstating the ban on assault weapons, among other measures. With these proposals, the Obama Administration appears to be offering a variety of responses to the recent episodes of gun violence, including both “carrots” and “sticks.” For example, in the area of background checks, the Obama Administration would require criminal background checks for all gun sales (stick). But it would also propose $20 million funding from the Department of Justice in 2013 to encourage states to share criminal and relevant mental health records (carrot). It would additionally sidestep the question of whether schools should have armed guards and instead propose $150 million for up to 1,000 additional safety personnel in schools, with the decision left to schools as to how to best use the funds.
This “go for broke” strategy reflects what gun control advocates, law enforcement personnel, and local elected officials have requested of the White House. It also reflects the reality that there is little the President can do unilaterally. But a greater reality is that the gun debate, at least for the moment, has been altered. And with Congress facing record low approval ratings in the aftermath of the ongoing sequestration debate, there is going to be pressure for consensus on some matters.
In other words, with the 113th Congress only just beginning, and the President no longer facing re-election, anything is possible.