RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The political reality around guns is such that it's an issue that brings little change in Washington, D.C. Still, at least for Democrats, the debate around guns could have an impact on the race for president. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton released her plan for new gun-control measures in the wake of last week's shooting in Oregon. It's the rare issue where Clinton can position herself to the left of her main challenger, Bernie Sanders. With us in our Washington studios, NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Good morning.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
MONTAGNE: You're certainly welcome here anytime. So what are the Democrats who want to be president saying they will do if elected?
MONTANARO: Well, they are certainly proposing a lot. And Hillary Clinton, for example, this week proposed a series of measures, including stricter background checks, closing loopholes in the law, prohibiting domestic abusers from being able to own guns. And she says if Congress won't act, she will. Former Governor Martin O'Malley has an even longer list of proposals. Bernie Sanders says that he's working on a detailed plan, doesn't have one out just yet. But being from Vermont, he's had a moderate stance on guns. He voted against the Brady bill in 1993, for example, which instituted some waiting periods for people who could purchase handguns. But he did vote for stricter background checks after the Sandy Hook shooting. He's reiterated a push on the campaign trail for those background checks as well as an assault weapons ban. But I do want to caution that for all they're proposing, this is largely about politics. Not much of what they propose will get through Congress. And they know this. But it's a priority on the campaign. And it's an issue - a rare issue - that actually gives Hillary Clinton an opening against Sanders, who lines up generally to the left of Clinton on almost every other issue.
MONTAGNE: Well, just now you mentioned Hillary Clinton promising to take executive action if Congress won't act. It's hard to imagine Congress, as you say, acting on this. But would she be able to accomplish something that President Obama has not been able to do?
MONTANARO: Well, it's probably unlikely. I mean, she's proposing something of that's fairly significant when it comes to executive action, which is she wants major sellers at gun shows and those who sell guns over the Internet, online, to be held to the same standards as brick-and-mortar stores, require them to perform background checks, for example. But it's not clear how that kind of unilateral action would actually be enforceable and would probably wind up in the courts. Also, people forget President Obama actually proposed 23 executive actions after Newtown. Not much happened when it came to those. And mostly politicians talk up this kind of thing. When an issue's hit a dead end in Congress, they want to make themselves look like they're taking action. But in reality, a president's ability to affect sweeping change really, without Congress, is pretty limited.
MONTAGNE: You know, we just have a few seconds here. But let me ask you a last question. Large majorities of people say they want at least background checks. So what is the deal? Why won't Congress act?
MONTANARO: Well, background checks, obviously, 80 to 90 percent of people favor them. But, you know, when you look at back to 1993, the Brady bill passed, Pew found that a strong majority thought controlling gun ownership was more important than the rights of gun owners, including Republicans. But what's the shift been this time? Republicans overwhelmingly move to protecting gun rights. And they control both chambers of Congress.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.