Biden: There are 19 separate gun-control actions Obama could take by executive order

It’s mostly marginal stuff dealing with mental-health reporting requirements by federal agencies, broader sharing of databases among law enforcement, more prosecutions for crimes under existing laws, etc. The one measure that might significantly limit access to some guns has to do with blocking the importation of certain ones made overseas, but there’s bipartisan presidential precedent for that. Bush 41 issued an order in 1989 barring some foreign-made assault weapons and then Clinton expanded on it in 1998 after gun manufacturers snared by Bush’s order modified their weapons to evade it. Somewhere in Europe right now, a gun maker is sitting around waiting for O’s order so that he can get to work tweaking his design to evade that order too.

I wonder if he’ll take all 19 actions, to show the left that he’s literally doing everything he can, or if he’ll decline to take a few just to prove to gun-rights activists how “reasonable” he’s being.

Actions the president could take on his own are likely to include imposing new limits on guns imported from overseas, compelling federal agencies to improve sharing of mental health records and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence, according to those briefed on the effort.

White House officials and Democratic lawmakers said that there are clear limits to what the president can and cannot do, and that Mr. Obama has no plans to push beyond what he would need Congressional authority to accomplish

Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and Mr. Obama’s former chief of staff, joined the debate on Monday and said that the president should “clear the table” by doing whatever he can administratively so small issues do not get in the way of the bigger legislative fights over access to guns.

Rarely will see you a White House that went to war in Libya without congressional authorization concede that there are clear limits to The One’s executive prerogatives, but they know how dodgy the politics of gun control are. He’s not going to do something bold and unilateral and risk a public backlash when he’s got the debt ceiling, immigration, and lord knows what else in the pipe this year. Better to bow to congressional authority, let Congress pass some small, watered-down bill dealing with background checks or whatever, and then grumble that the Republicans have once again thwarted Progress. The only way the final two years of his presidency will have meaning is if Democrats take back the House in 2014. Why do something stupid now that jeopardizes their chances?

Here’s Rand Paul on executive orders. Exit question: Are we sure new gun laws are as much of a national priority as the White House claims? Compare the numbers below for gun control versus, oh, say, reducing federal spending. Something to bear in mind as debt-ceiling armageddon approaches.