WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama said Monday that he would announce this week a “sensible, common-sense” proposal to curb gun violence that would include improved background checks, limits on the sale of high-capacity magazines and “an assault-weapons ban that is meaningful.”
The administration plans to buttress its legislative proposals with executive orders in as many as 19 areas, according to a member of Congress who was present Monday when Vice President Joe Biden briefed House Democrats. The White House declined to confirm that number.
“I’m confident that there are some steps that we can take that don’t require legislation and that are within my authority as president,” Obama said at a White House news conference. “And where you get a step that has the opportunity to reduce the possibility of gun violence, then I want to go ahead and take it.”
The president acknowledged the challenge of pushing gun bills through Congress, where the Republican-led House has balked at restrictions. “Will all of them get through this Congress? I don’t know,” he said.
Speaking one month after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children died, Obama suggested that lawmakers will have to “examine their own conscience.”
“If everybody across party lines was as deeply moved and saddened as I was, then we’re going to have to vote based on what we think is best,” he said.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, said a “clear-the-table” strategy that makes full use of executive powers would avoid snarls in Congress. “Don’t allow a side issue to derail these things. It’s going to be perilous enough,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel also announced he would ask Chicago’s city pension funds to divest any holdings in companies that make guns and would “lead a charge” to persuade other mayors to do the same.
The prospect of administrative action riled gun-rights supporters. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, threatened to file articles of impeachment if the White House pursued its plan.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said concerns about administrative overreach were overblown. “You get the sense some people believe that he can change statutes by executive order. You need bills to pass the House and the Senate to change statutes,” he said.
Scott and other members of the House Democratic task force on gun violence met with Biden for more than two hours Monday, the final meeting of the White House working group convened in response to the Newtown massacre. Biden discussed his policy recommendations with the president later in the day.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said Biden’s effort, in which he and other administration officials consulted about 270 people, represented “the most comprehensive look at guns in a generation.”
She said that in addition to dealing with weapons themselves, Biden discussed expanding school-safety grants and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun safety.
The CDC proposal has been a priority for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. On Monday, the advocacy group released a report highlighting the gun lobby’s efforts to stop research on gun violence.
House Republicans announced Monday that they will hold hearings on mental health and gun violence. “Mental illness is a difficult subject and there are no easy answers, but it is important to have an honest discussion out in the open,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a written statement.
Two polls released Monday found broad public support for stronger background check laws. In a Washington Post-ABC News survey and another by the Pew Research Center, more than 80 percent of respondents said they want federal background checks to be conducted for private gun sales, including at gun shows, where they are not now required.
Much slimmer majorities expressed support for two other policy options mentioned by Obama — banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association., predicted on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that Congress would not pass an assault weapons ban or restrictions on high-capacity magazines. “The NRA doesn’t have the power, but those Americans who believe in the Second Amendment do,” he said.
Some new gun initiatives also cropped up on the state level Monday.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley outlined proposals that would include banning “military assault weapons,” limiting the size of magazines, instituting “commonsense” licensing requirements, and improving mental health services and school safety. Among the licensing requirements would be mandatory fingerprinting, background checks and gun safety training, with exceptions for the purchase of rifles and shotguns.
The vice president’s son, Delaware Attorney. General Beau Biden, joined his state’s governor Monday in announcing a slate of gun measures, including a requirement for background checks for sales at gun shows and curbs on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.
Christi Parsons contributed to this report.