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Can Obama Slay the NRA Beast?

Obama will announce a gun violence package on Wednesday. Can his reforms overpower a shady, extremist and powerful NRA?

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And congressional Republicans have been pushing for a new federal gun law that would expand, not contract, gun rights. The ‘National Right To Carry Reciprocity’ proposal would let people who live in states that have looser restrictions carrying concealed weapons (say Utah) bring those guns into states with stricter laws (New York). In April 2012, California Sen. Diane Feinstein placed a ‘hold’ on the bill, stalling its progress.     

Whether the NRA’s three-decade-long political victory streak will be broken in 2013 is an open question that can only be answered by assessing the fine print of the proposed reforms and seeing how quickly they are implemented at the federal and state levels. But there appears to be new political will to not just reverse some of the worst gun laws and loopholes, but to challenge the NRA’s underlying principles which inflate the Second Amendment right to guns. Indeed, as the Supreme Court’s Heller ruling stated, the federal Constitution permits an array of gun control laws. 

The Obama Administration will be proposing a package of federal gun control reforms on Wednesday, January 16. Vice-President Biden has been meeting with various constituencies and is expected to propose a slate of reforms that could roll back federal law to where it stood in the early 1980s—with new and more robust background checks, bans in assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, closing the gun show sales loophole, restarting federal research into gun violence, and other measures—some of which do not need Congress to act.

The Newtown shooting has ended the acquiescence of some Democrats in federal and state office. Two previously pro-gun Democratic Senators, Virginia’s Mark Warner and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, both with “A” ratings from the NRA, joined Obama’s call for “meaningful” action. Meanwhile, longtime gun-control proponents, such as Diane Feinstein are preparing new legislation that is said to not repeat mistakes in prior federal bans. And governors in New York, Connecticut and Colorado have all called for renewed state gun control laws—with New York acting the quickest and passing new state gun controls this week.  

Whether some Republicans in Congress will break from the NRA’s grip and support new gun controls is an open question. That has to happen for any measure to emerge from the House. But understanding how the NRA has dominated gun policy and debate in recent decades is the first step to unraveling its power and influence—as assessing the White House’s remedies in 2013.



Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, the low-wage economy, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

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