Vice President Joe Biden has signalled that Barack Obama could use his presidential powers to bypass Congress and exact more stringent gun controls.
Speaking before a White House meeting with gun control advocates, Biden said: ‘The president is going go act.There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken. We haven’t decided what that is yet, but we’re compiling it all.’
Executive orders have the full force of law and are issued by a president using his executive powers independently of Congress. Use of them, however, is highly controversial because it bypasses the legislative branch – the Congress.
If Obama were to act on gun control with sweeping executive orders, he would be likely to face a backlash of outrage from many Republicans.
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Executive action: Biden meeting with gun control advocates today saying that the Sandy Hook massacre deserved an ‘immediate response’
He said that last months massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 27 dead, including 20 children, had ‘touched the heart of the American people so profoundly’ and ‘requires immediate, urgent action’.
Eric Holder, the Attorney General, sat at the table with Biden, alongside representatives of gun control groups such as the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, survivors of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre shooting and the stepfather of a victim in last summer’s Aurora, Colorado mass shooting.
Biden said: ‘I want to make clear that we’re not going to get caught up in the notion that, unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing,’ Biden said. ‘It’s critically important we act.’
The vice-president is due to finalise his task force’s findings on gun violence and pass the results to Obama by the end of the month.
Critically important: Biden said the massacre at Sandy Hook meant the president had to act
Biden is understood to be considering a raft of gun control proposals – including an option of working with stores like Wal-Mart to close the so called ‘sun show loophole’ so that more weapons could be bought in retail outlets.
A person working within the Obama administration told the Washington Post that Wal-Mart and other major gun retailers might have an incentive to back closing the loophole, which allows people to bypass background checks if they buy firearms at gun shows or via private sales.
After the Sandy Hook massacre, Biden was deputed to lead a task force charged with making recommendations to President Barack Obama to prevent future carnage.
Call for action: Many of those meeting with Biden today had been touched by gun violence. From left are: William Kellibrew, Witness to Violence & Founder William Kellibrew Foundation; Hildy Saizow of Arizona for Gun Safety; Colin Goddard, a survivor of Virginia Tech shooting; Annette Nance-Holt, mother of victim to gang violence; and Lonnie Phillips, stepfather of a Aurora, Colo., shooting victim. Biden is holding a series of meetings this week as part of the effort he is leading to develop policy proposals in response to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
On Thursday, he will meet gun ownership organisations – including the National Rifle Association – and sportsmen who use guns recreationally.
Obama has described the day of the Sandy Hook massacre in December as the worst of his presidency, and has said he will look to take quick action on the Biden group’s recommendations.
The Washington Post reported that the White House is weighing a broad approach on gun control that would go beyond bans on assault weapons and high-capacity clips that have prompted attention in the past.
Among the measures Biden is said to be looking at are universal background checks for gun buyers and a national database to track the movement and sale of weapons.
Members of Congress have indicated a readiness to look at the issue of gun violence, but any major changes to gun laws would be expected to encounter resistance from Republicans and many Democrats who are strong supporters of Second Amendment gun rights.
There have been signs of a potential shift among key figures though, with a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, telling CNN that the top Democrat was in a ‘different place’ on gun control.
After Sandy Hook, Reid said on the Senate floor: ‘We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens.’
The NRA opposes new restrictions on gun ownership and insists that the best way to deal with the issue of gun violence is to put armed guards in all schools.
Safer option? Biden is said to be behind a plan to encourage gun buyers to purchase from supermarkets where they must undergo background checks
Jay Carney, White House press secretary, has said that Biden was overseeing a process engaged with a variety of stakeholders to look at gun violence. ‘They include gun owners and groups that represent gun owners.’
Sheriff Richard Stanek, who attended one meeting at the White House, told the Washington Post said that Biden ‘wanted to talk to us about the assault-weapons ban, automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines.
He added that the meeting also included extended discussion of mental-health issues, violence in video games and films, and the poor quality of information contained in databases used to conduct criminal background checks before issuing gun permits.
According to the White House, ‘soon after’ the meetings are complete, Biden will pass his task force’s recommendations to Obama, who will then issue a set of proposals for tackling gun violence.
Biden said he was ‘heartened’ by the response the White House has received to a request for input on the gun issue, with contributions being received from mental health groups, medical professionals and religious groups.
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