President Barack Obama will announce an inter-agency task force on Tuesday led by Vice-President Joe Biden to explore ways to prevent mass shootings like the one last week in Newtown, Connecticut.
The task force will research and present policy options to the president on the issue. The creation of the group is the most aggressive move Obama has taken as president to push for greater gun control laws.
White House officials are still formulating their approach on gun policy, but Obama is likely to take a three-pronged approach: looking to see what he can do through executive orders that don’t require legislation, starting a national conversation on both gun control and mental health, and backing legislation that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Over the several two days, the president has already renewed his support for legislation like the assault weapons ban and not allowing firearms to be sold at gun shows or other venues unless potential buyers complete a background check.
But ultimately, administration officials feel that passing major legislation may not happen quickly next year, as Republicans and many Americans remain resistant to greater gun restrictions. A “national conversation,” in the words of one top administration adviser, may be necessary to galvanize the public behind a comprehensive set of proposals that would potentially reduce the chance of mass killings.
The first step would likely be new gun restrictions that don’t have to pass in Congress, but can be implemented through executive order.
For example, as Reuters described in a recent story, the administration could force gun dealers to keep information on who purchases weapons for longer than the current three days, or expand the definition of who has been defined as a “mental defective” and would be barred from buying a gun.
Then, Obama, would turn to talking to Americans on the broader issue of gun control, potentially with events in schools and outside of Washington. The idea would be a public campaign that galvanized Americans on this issue, making it easier to pass legislation on Capitol Hill.
But administration officials are debating the timing. Some say that they should move quickly to pass legislation, taking advantage of a rare national moment when the public is very angry about gun violence and lawmakers like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, have signaled they will back greater gun restrictions.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr