WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obamas wide-ranging plan to curb gun violence in America isnt likely to be enacted in full, but experts say the sheer breadth of his proposal will provide a national blueprint for action that can guide lawmakers, fuel a powerful lobbying effort and sustain a national dialogue on gun control.
The mix of executive orders and congressional proposals offered one month after the mass slayings of 20 elementary school children and six school staff members in Newtown, Conn., drew widespread praise from experts in the mental health, education and law enforcement fields. Each found something to like in the package.
The genius of the presidents plan is that it acknowledges that no single thing is going to solve this problem, said Kim Anderson, director of the National Education Associations Center for Advocacy and Outreach. It actually does take a set of recommendations and proposals. So the comprehensive nature of this response is something that were very pleased with.
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the presidents calls to ban sales of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines hold tremendous promise for creating safer, healthier communities.
Todays proposals represent a real opportunity to make long-lasting progress on reducing gun violence, Benjamin said. Now, Congress must get to work.
When the assault weapons ban was in effect from 1994 to 2004, police saw a precipitous drop in shootings with those weapons, said Terrence Cunningham, chief of the Wellesley, Mass., Police Department and fourth vice president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. But gun makers began to skirt the ban by changing the size and appearance of weapons to avoid having them classified as assault weapons.
If the ban is reinstated by Congress, I think that people will be alerted to that this time, and I hope that theyre more thoughtful in how the laws are written, Cunningham said.
Cunningham also applauded Obamas push for more information about a potential gun buyers mental health history during background checks. In Massachusetts, Cunningham said, police are only notified if an applicant has been confined to a state mental hospital. Information on private mental hospital stays and out-of-state hospital stays are not provided.
So even if I knew this person had severe mental deficiencies and I dont want to issue them a firearms license because I feel its unsafe, I still have to by statute. So having the ability to say, No, Cunningham said, would make the community safer.
Larry Amerson, president of the National Sheriffs Association, said Obamas call to expand mental health services would also help. Sheriff of Calhoun County, Ala., Amerson said that four of the five people his department has shot and killed during his tenure had long-term mental problems. But Alabamas state mental health services budget has been cut 36 percent, from $100 million in 2009 to $64.2 million in 2012.
Weve got to improve in that area, but without the support and encouragement of the federal government, thats hard to do, he said.
Mike Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, cheered Obamas plan to enact the final regulations on a federal law that requires group health plans to provide coverage for mental health services at the same level as general medical and surgical benefits. But he expressed caution about Obamas call to have mental health counselors provide police with information on potentially dangerous patients.