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How Democrats might get to 'yes' on gun control

To move their agenda on reducing gun violence forward, congressional Democrats will have to woo, and reassure, gun owners. But that won't preclude some tough political maneuvering.

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This time around, Emanuel, who spoke at CAP with Thompson, says Democrats need to take a half-dozen discrete steps to succeed.

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First, they need to frame the changes they seek – whether background checks on all gun sales or a limit on the sale of assault weapons – as “all about criminal access” to firearms, Emanuel said Monday. “It’s not about gun control; it’s about criminal access to guns. That changes the debate.”

Next, Democrats need to take a page out of Mr. Clinton’s playbook and keep “the police chief and the law enforcement community front and center.” Highlighting law enforcement support for the plan, as Clinton did in 1994, helped remove the issue from the partisan terrain of gun rights versus gun control and placed it into an argument about policy and community safety.

Third, Emanuel emphasized that Democrats should make sure Americans get a good look at assault weapons and their associated bullet magazines, restrictions on which are likely to be the most controversial piece of the White House’s policy recommendations.

There’s “a difference between the magazine that holds 10 [bullets] and magazine that holds 20 or 30,” Emanuel said. And there’s “a lot of different type of damage done” with the latter.

Then, Emanuel’s puzzle involves Democrats sticking up for one another come election season: They need to be willing to go to the wall for members in districts with more difficult gun politics.

“If the person is going to take the vote,” he said, reflecting on Democratic losses in the 1994 congressional elections that many attribute to voting for the president’s assault weapons ban, “don’t walk away from them come the political season.”

Moreover, the president would be wise to act on smaller but still controversial issues through executive order when possible, Emanuel advised. Obama has said he will weigh which issues could be handled through executive decisionmaking, a prospect that has infuriated congressional Republicans who believe the president too-frequently sidesteps Capitol Hill’s authority.

“Push the limit on [executive action],” Emanuel said. “Clear the table, man. Don’t allow a side issue to derail these things. [The eventual legislation] is going to be perilous enough.”

With that strategy in place, Democrats should put Republicans into a position similar to that of the fiscal cliff fight: a Senate-passed bill on their doorstep and the president using his political moxie to turn up the heat.

“Get it done [in the Senate] and then clear the decks and put the ultimate pressure on the House,” Emanuel said. “Put the burner up.”

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