President Barack Obama's call for a task force to develop "concrete proposals" for preventing further Newtown-like massacres may actually stand a chance of succeeding, experts say, despite the dismal reputations of other such presidential panels.
Obama is convening a group of top administration officials, as well as soliciting membership from outside interest groups, to be led by Vice President Joe Biden,tasking them with producing policy recommendations touching on gun reform, increasing access to mental heathcare, and reviewing pop culture's role in violent incidents, he announced at the White House on Tuesday.
"This is not some Washington commission, this is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside," he said. "This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now."
The president pointed to widespread public support for bans on assault weapons and "high ammunition clips" as well as background checks on all gun purchases as potential areas for legislation and urged Congress to take up such measures early next session.
"The vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible. They buy their guns legally and they use them safely," Obama said. "But you know what? I am also betting the majority – the vast majority – of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war."
Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at Brookings Institute, says he's optimistic Obama's tactic will result in actual public policy and not just feel-good meetings or reports.
"This task force is focused on action on the shooting issue and there are many different aspects of the problem and you need people from different parts of government to figure out what the best way is going forward," he says. "So I don't see this as a commission that's going to take two years to report and then the recommendation is going to gather dust."
Jordan Tama, a professor at American University who has studied the effectiveness of government panels, says success hinges on the make-up and buy-in of the panel members.
It needs to be bipartisan or diverse and deliver a unanimous recommendation in order to build political credibility, he says.
"That makes it much more likely that it will be effective in terms of catalyzing Congress to pass legislation," Tama says. "In this case the big challenge is can you get Republicans, especially the House Republicans, to support something in the area of gun control."
The last major federal gun control law, an assault weapons ban passed under President Bill Clinton and a Democratically-controlled Congress in 1994, lapsed in 2004 under President George Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress. But while the National Rifle Association has seen it's influence rise since the law's passage and effectively pushed pro-gun laws at the state level in recent years, the organization is still wary of defending the status quo in the face of the Newtown massacre. It will hold a press conference on Friday "to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
Lawmakers have already proposed a slew of gun control measures as well, including a proposal by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to reinstate the assault weapons ban.
Obama's swift timeline – asking the panel make policy proposals before January – also increases its likelihood of being effective, he adds.
"The president realizes if he's going to be able to do anything on gun control he's going to have to act quickly," Tama says. "In this case, there's not a lot of research that needs to be done – we know what the issues are. So [the group] doesn't have to come up with brilliant, new ideas, it's just a matter of a group of people trying to figure out where the common ground is."