WASHINGTON -- As he began a final series of meetings with stakeholder groups to develop recommendations on gun violence, Vice President Joe Biden signaled Wednesday that one focus may be on measures the Obama administration can take independently of Congress.
Biden said the issue of gun violence is one “that requires immediate action,” and the president and he were “determined to take action.”
"I want to make clear that we're not going to get caught up in the notion that, unless we can do everything, were going to do nothing,” Biden told reporters before a meeting with gun safety advocates and victims of gun violence. “The president is going to act,” he said, adding the White House has determined that "executive action can be taken."
As a practical matter, Biden’s comments reflect the political reality in the House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans who have been resistant to new restrictions on guns. Even in the Senate, Democrats are shy of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. And a number of the 53 Democrats there may face difficult reelection fights in 2014, in which pro-gun groups such as the National Rifle Assn. may exert their political muscle.
Biden did not specify what executive actions might be on the table, saying they still were being reviewed.
After the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, the administration pointed to some “common-sense efforts” it had already implemented using executive authority, primarily through improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Biden’s recommendations will no doubt still include legislative prescriptions, though. The president has indicated he is prepared to use the bully pulpit as he begins his second term to push for congressional action, and reform advocates are also mobilizing independently of the White House.
Actions are also possible at the state level. Gov. Jack Markell (D) of Delaware, chairman of the National Governors Assn., said at an event in Washington on Wednesday he would be introducing legislation in a matter of days addressing three components: access to mental health treatment, school security and access to guns.
In his state of the state address Wednesday, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) promised “to make specific, actionable recommendations in the areas of school safety, mental health services and gun violence prevention.” But he noted that state action had its limits.
“This conversation must take place nationally. As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95, what is available for sale in Florida can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut,” he said.
The NGA as a group was unlikely to take an official position. “Each state is different. Each state has its unique needs,” said Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.), the NGA vice chair.
“If all you're going to do is legislate on guns, then you're not dealing with the whole issue,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said on MSNBC. “You've got to do some stuff on guns, but you also have to deal with mental health, and substance abuse. Because if you don't, then all you're doing is being political.”
Biden was to hold a conference call Wednesday afternoon with a group of governors. Markell said one area that states may be drawn into the administration’s recommendations is in opening access to state mental health databases.
The vice president is also meeting this week with gun ownership groups, including the NRA, as well as manufacturers of video games and representatives of the entertainment industry.
The White House says Biden will be making recommendations to the president soon after the conclusion of his meetings. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, members of which have been at the forefront of the gun issue, announced Wednesday that Biden will be addressing the group at its convention in Washington on Jan. 17.