Prediction: Gun control legislation will come with We the People response

Obama and Congress should include petitioners in the deliberative process.

President Obama pledged Wednesday that he’ll propose new gun control measures to Congress by the end of January.

The president’s announcement came in response to Friday’s shooting of 26 people by a mentally disturbed gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and to a public outcry following the attack, including on the White House petition website We the People.

The president’s recommendations will be developed by a task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden and will include some measures for improved mental health care, the president said.

A petition asking the president to press for stricter gun control laws was posted to We the People shortly after Friday’s shootings and quickly became the most popular petition ever posted to the site. It’s since been overtaken by another petition asking the administration to designate the Westboro Baptist Church, which planned to picket the funerals of Sandy Hook victims, as a hate group.

The White House has pledged to respond to We the People petitions that receive more than 25,000 signatures.

I’m neither a betting man nor a political adviser.  

If I was the former, though, I’d bet administration officials won’t respond to that gun control petition until they release the first draft of the president’s proposed legislation in January, allowing the petition to continue to rack up signatures in the interim.

On the day that proposal comes out, I’d wager the administration will issue a response -- perhaps carrying the president’s or vice president’s signature -- touting its proposed legislation

The White House has used We the People partly as a bully pulpit for administration priorities since its very first response to a petition seeking forgiveness of all student loan debt in October 2011.

The administration used that first response to announce changes to income based repayment plans for federal loans that would benefit low income graduates. It would make sense for the administration to use its response to the gun control petition to demonstrate its proposed legislation is, in part, a direct response to public appeals.

If I was a political adviser, though, I’d urge the president and congress to reach out to some of the petition signers -- both those that signed the gun control petition and others that have signed anti-gun control petitions -- and ask for input as the new legislation reaches its final form.

This sort of digital deliberation is extremely messy and it’s a poor fit for a lot of complicated legislation. This issue more than most, however, gets to the root of how a lot of Americans live and the tradeoffs they’re willing to make between autonomy and security. It would be good if some of the average citizens who feel strongly about the issue were given a chance to weigh in on the administration’s proposed fixes. Lawmakers may learn that people with seemingly hardline positions are actually able to find a decent amount of common ground.