Washington — The outlines of the strategies both sides will use in the expected bitter fight over gun control are beginning to take shape, with advocates looking to act quickly on a broad package of reforms, and opponents hoping to stall the battle until memories of the Newtown shootings dim.
A White House panel, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, is expected to come out with a wide range of recommendations that could include reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, universal background checks for buyers of firearms and tougher penalties for carrying guns in schools.
Those measures would require congressional approval. According to an administration source, the White House is also considering using its executive authority to track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database and strengthen mental health checks for gun buyers.
A formal rollout of the Biden group’s recommendations is expected later this month.
President Obama says he wants Congress to act on the recommendations as soon as possible, even perhaps before the end of January.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said there’s no hurry to consider gun control.
“There will be plenty of time to take a look at their recommendations once they come forward,” he said of the Biden group’s proposals.
McConnell said that for the next three months, debates in Washington would focus on federal spending and the rising debt.
Others are already saying they’ll oppose any effort to put curbs on guns and ammunition.
Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the campaign for stricter gun control “unconstitutional.” He also said politicians are exploiting the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which left 20 children and six adults dead, “to try to push their political agenda of gun control.”
“I don’t think the proposals being discussed now make sense,” Cruz said.
The Texas Republican benefited from nearly $60,000 in spending by the National Rifle Association’s political action committee in support of his campaign. No other lawmaker received more help from that PAC last year.
Connecticut’s congressional delegation is expected to take a leading, supportive role on gun control.
Newly elected Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, who represents Newtown, has been appointed to a new Democratic House panel on gun control. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said they would be co-sponsors of major gun legislation in the Senate.
On CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, Murphy said he disagreed with McConnell that the gun control debate can wait, and he urged immediate action.
The Washington Post reported that the White House is reaching out to law enforcement groups, religious groups and mental health professionals and even some traditional NRA allies.
According to the Post, the Biden panel is also talking to hunters and to retailers such as Wal-Mart, who may have an incentive to support closing a loophole that allows people to bypass background checks if they purchase firearms at gun shows or through other types of private sales.
Some Democrats aren’t waiting for the White House’s recommendations to act.
Reps. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Diana DeGette of Colorado last week reintroduced a bill they had promoted in earlier Congresses that would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Blumenthal has scheduled a media conference call Tuesday on legislation concerning the sale of ammunition.