The White House on Tuesday is touting a progress report on President Obama's pledge to combat gun violence, in the wake of December's school shooting, that says the administration has "completed or made significant progress" on 21 of 23 executive actions Mr. Obama laid out in January.
But the report also urges Congress to act after legislation to expand gun-purchase background checks failed in the Senate in April, saying that "[p]assing common-sense gun safety legislation, including expanding background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime, remains the single most important step we could take to reduce gun violence."
The executive actions the administration is acting on range from ending a "freeze" on gun violence research, to making sure federal law enforcement agencies trace guns recovered in investigations, to addressing issues with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the report said.
For example, the Justice Department announced in March that it plans to invest more than $20 million for actions such as improving access to and reporting of mental health information and felony convictions to NICS in hopes of keeping guns out of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. Mr. Obama has also proposed $50 million for this purpose in his fiscal 2014 budget plan.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who has run point on the issue for Mr. Obama over the past six months, will deliver remarks at the White House Tuesday on the administration's efforts to reduce gun violence.
The two actions still outstanding are getting a permanent director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and finalizing regulations regarding mental health parity. The nomination of Acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones for the permanent post is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and an administration official said they have moved on the mental health regulations, but that they just aren't in place yet because of rulemaking timeframes that allow significant time for comment.
The White House has more work to do — but Congress must also step up and act, a senior administration official said on a conference call with reporters.
Mr. Biden is expected to make a push for background check legislation in Tuesday's address as well. The measure co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, and Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania, that failed in April would have expanded background checks to firearms sales online and at gun shows. Right now, only federally licensed dealers are required to perform the checks.
Senators considered swing votes on the measure, such as Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, and Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, have been targeted with big-dollar advertising campaigns from pro-gun rights and gun control groups alike.
The new lobbying push doesn't always fall neatly along party lines.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, for example, the group co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has targeted Mr. Pryor, among others, for voting against the measure.
Mr. Pryor, who is up for re-election next year, has already used MAIG's opposition in a campaign advertisement, closing the 30-second spot by saying "I'm Mark Pryor, and I approve this message because no one from New York or Washington tells me what to do. I listen to Arkansas."
"When it comes to Democrats, there is always a little bit of a concern about Democrats talking publicly about Second Amendment rights," an administration official said on the conference call. "And there was a ton of pressure on Democrats to demonstrate their commitment to protecting Second Amendment rights."
Despite the outcome in April, the official continued, "there was an indication both in that vote and in the immediate aftermath of that vote that the dynamics of that political conversation are changing. And they're doing so rather rapidly."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said last week that background check legislation will pass — it's only a matter of when. But he also conceded that recent talks on potentially reviving the legislation haven't borne much fruit.
Another point Mr. Biden will make is that while unilateral executive actions are helping, they are in no way a replacement for concrete legislative action.
"I don't know that all those executive actions can be translated into something as simple as 'guns off the street,' but we do believe very strongly they're all making a difference," an administration official said on the call.
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