Should Obama Pursue Gun Control Without Congress?

President Barack Obama could use executive privilege for gun control in the absence of action from Congress.

President Barack Obama wipes his eye as he speaks about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., at the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.
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Calls for increased gun control are being renewed in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting last Friday, and President Barack Obama indicated he would pursue measures to stop such events from happening in the future. Obama said at a memorial service Sunday that he would "use whatever power this office holds" to prevent such massacres.

In yet another high-profile public shooting, 20 children and six adults were killed in Sandy Hook Elementary School when a gunman forced his way in and began firing. Obama spoke strongly about the failure of the country to protect its children, and suggested his administration would explore new efforts to better regulate guns.

[ See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Newtown shooting.]

"No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society," he said. "But that can't be an excuse for inaction."

"Because what choice do we have?" he added. "We can't accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

Such rhetoric is common after large-scale shootings, but the politics do often prove too difficult for any measures restricting gun ownership to pass. Yet Obama may be in a unique position to use his executive power to pursue gun regulations, as the election is over and he's secured another four years in the White House.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

Obama has not presented any specific proposals, but his administration has been examining options to prevent such tragedies from occurring ever since the public shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in early 2011. The Justice Department's review included examining the possibility of sending legislation to Congress as well as steps Obama himself could take.

"You always look at both, because if you can do it administratively it's certainly a less involved process," said Christopher Schroeder, who ran the review for the Justice Department.

Options include stricter background checks before people are able to buy guns, with the possibility of including mental competence as a data point. Information sharing between all levels of law enforcement about illegal gun purchases and restricting importation of military-style weapons have also been proposed.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should People Be Allowed to Carry Guns Openly?]

Congress hasn't passed a major new gun law since 1994, with the powerful National Rifle Association pushing lawmakers away from enacting serious gun control legislation. The NRA is the gun industry's largest and most powerful lobby. Many Republicans vehemently oppose laws that would restrict Second Amendment rights, as do some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. However, Reid and a few other gun rights defenders have recently signaled openness  to new regulation in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

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