President Obama addressed the nation in an impassioned speech on gun control today, standing with survivors of gun violence behind a podium at the White House.

The president illustrated a plan of action, vowing to:

“Our right to peaceful assembly—that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette.  Our unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown. First-graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun. Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad,” President Obama said, wiping a tear from his eye. “And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”

Carol Rose is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts. She joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to examine the legality of the president’s claims, and answer the question: Can he actually do what he has proposed?

“There’s no question that it’s possible to regulate guns,” Rose said. “Gun regulation goes back to the time of the Constitution. When the Constitution was written, gun regulations were common. Boston made it illegal to keep a loaded gun in your home. New York, Boston, and all cities in Pennsylvania prohibited the firing of guns within city limits. States imposed curbs on gun ownership, and people deemed dangerous were barred from owning weapons...It’s not as though gun control and regulation of guns is something new.”

Yet there is one simple distinction, Rose says, between a regulation and a law. One of the president’s more dramatic proposals is perhaps the idea that anyone who sells a weapon anywhere must be registered as a licensed gun dealer and conduct a background check. This would represent a massive expansion, but does President Obama have the power to push it through, as opposed to Congress?

“The devil is going to be the details,” Rose said. “The one that came to my mind was the background checks on people with mental illness. Does that mean anybody who has ever gone to get treatment? Or does that mean anybody who has ever been adjudicated by a court to be a danger to themselves or others? That’s a huge, huge difference between those two things. How would those databases be used in other ways? What are the regulations on those?”

Despite raising these concerns, Rose says the idea of regulation itself is constitutional.

“The idea that we’re going to have some sort of a background check, or a regulation, I don’t think really raises constitutional concerns,” she said. “When you buy a car, you need a license to operate the vehicle. You have to take a class, or pass a test. There may be a constitutional right to own a weapon, but that doesn’t mean you have a constitutional right to not be regulated or licensed.”

Carol Rose is the Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. To hear more from her interview with BPR, click on the audio link above.