The White House and gun control supporters are gearing up for a whirlwind month, with plans to pass reform legislation before outrage over the Sandy Hook massacre has a chance to fade.
While the fiscal cliff has dominated Washington’s attention in recent weeks, lawmakers and activists are laying the groundwork for their big push. Vice President Joe Biden, tasked with heading a commission to investigate gun violence, has been quietly meeting with experts, interest groups, and public officials and is expected to release a set of recommendations within weeks. Boston mayor Thomas Menino, co-chair of Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told the Boston Herald this week that an optimistic Biden had assured him that Obama would sign legislation “by the end of January.”
“We had been led to believe their report would come by end of January, but we’re hearing they may want to have something out by January 15, even quicker than expected,” Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told TPM.
House Democrats are moving ahead with their own plans as well. On Friday, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), chair of the newly created Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, announced the appointment of 12 vice chairs, including Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), the body’s leading voice on gun control. According to a Democratic aide, the group plans to release its recommendations in early February and is already organizing public hearings on the issue.
Obama has personally identified an assault weapons ban and limits on ammunition magazine size as top priorities. Other possible reforms could include background check requirements for purchases at gun shows, a loophole that’s helped create a huge market of off-record arms purchases.
Pro-gun groups have dominated Congress in recent years and, while lawmakers approved by the National Rifle Association have mostly kept their heads down in recent weeks, any legislation could face an difficult path to passage, or even a vote, especially in the Republican-led House.
Glaze said his group would work hard to build public support, hosting local events with various mayors, dozens of whom will descend on Washington later this month for The United States Conference of Mayors winter gathering.
Gun violence survivors are also planning trips to lobby lawmakers to support legislation. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived a mass shooting in 2011, could play a prominent role in that regard: on Wednesday she met with Bloomberg in New York and on Friday traveled to Newtown to comfort families who lost loved ones in the attack there.
But Glaze acknowledged the NRA has long held an advantage not only in its cash resources, but in its large and active grassroots membership, which has rallied in the past to whip members of Congress against gun control bills. For gun control advocates, they’ll have to offer a compelling case that lawmakers who squelch reforms will pay a price in the midterm elections and that means building their own active network of supporters. Glaze is confident they can do so, citing recent polls showing restrictions on extended ammunition clips and an expansion of background checks to be popular nationally.
“The broad solutions are there and if Congress doesn’t act I think theyre going to be digging themselves further into a big hole,” he said.
The Brady Campaign, the gun control group founded by former Ronald Reagan press secretary Jim Brady, is also expected to play a role in promoting legislation, but it’s an open question whether they can compete with the NRA’s experienced leadership. TPM reached out to the group’s staff in recent days for information on its plans, but received no response.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.