President Barack Obama will meet with the United States’ top prosecutor Monday to discuss new firearm control measures, with the White House eyeing executive action as a way to push through ways to curb America’s gun violence.
The president will meet Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey to discuss the administration's options for tightening gun rules without going through the Republican-controlled Congress, which does not support the wide-ranging legislative changes that Obama prefers.
At the top of the list is an effort to expand background checks on gun sales by forcing more sellers to register as federally licensed gun dealers. The changes would be aimed at some unregistered sellers who skirt the background check laws by selling at gun shows, online or informal settings.
Other moves being considered include improving reporting of lost and stolen weapons and beefing up inspections of licensed dealers, according to a person familiar with the plans who would not be named discussing proposals before they are finalized.
Guns are a potent issue in U.S. politics. The right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution, and the National Rifle Association, the top U.S. gun rights group, is feared and respected in Washington for its ability to mobilize gun owners. Congress has not approved major gun-control legislation since the 1990s.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who has already proposed an executive action to close the gun show loophole, cheered Obama's plans. "I am absolutely convinced we can have gun safety measures consistent with the Constitution," she said during a campaign event in Concord, New Hampshire.
"I will take on that fight. I'm very hopeful and excited that the president is going to take some action with executive action in the next week or two," she said. "But if it's a Republican who walks into the White House, within the first day, the executive orders will be reversed."
Republicans have roundly criticized the president's plans, calling them an overreach of executive authority.
"This president wants to act as if he's a king, as if he's a dictator," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, said on “Fox News Sunday.” The governor, who was criticized by fellow Republicans for embracing Obama in an appeal for aid after Superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey in 2012, called the president a "petulant child."
"This is going to be another illegal executive action, which I'm sure will be rejected by the courts," Christie added.
Obama will take part in a one-hour town-hall-style forum on gun control broadcast on CNN at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, the White House said.
The event, moderated by anchor Anderson Cooper, will give Obama a chance to respond to criticism and raise public support for the measures before his State of the Union address on Jan. 12.
Obama launched a push to tighten U.S. gun laws after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, in which a young man armed with a semiautomatic weapon took the lives of 20 children and six educators.
But the push stalled in Congress. Last month's fatal shootings in San Bernardino, California, by a couple who authorities suspect were inspired by ISIL, gave further impetus to the White House to try again through executive actions.
"It would be better for our security if it was harder for terrorists to purchase very powerful weapons," Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Saturday in Hawaii, where Obama was concluding a two-week vacation. The president returned to Washington on Sunday.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month showed 65 percent of respondents saying it was important that gun control be addressed in the United States, while 29 percent said it was unimportant.
Al Jazeera and wire services