President Obama on Wednesday formally proposed the most expansive gun-control policies in generations and initiated 23 separate executive actions aimed at curbing what he called “the epidemic of gun violence in this country.”
While no legislation can prevent every tragedy, he said in announcing the proposals, ”if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, we’ve got an obligation to try.”
Obama spoke in a ceremony to formally unveil the proposals and to sign executive orders and paperwork initiating immediate administrative actions, including steps to strengthen the existing background-check system to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people as well as to improve mental health and school safety programs.
The president also called on Congress to swiftly pass legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines for civilian use and to require universal background checks for all gun buyers. Obama’s proposals include mental health and school safety measures, as well as a tough new crackdown on gun trafficking.
Speaking before Obama, Vice President Biden said “we have a moral obligation” to diminish the prospect that tragedies such as last month’s massacre in an elementary school in Connecticut could happen again.
“I have no illusions about what we’re up against,” Biden said. But he added: “The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.”
Obama said his agenda is comprehensive and is designed to curb not only mass shootings with semiautomatic weapons but the thousands of deaths from regular handguns that abound in America’s cities.
In an emotional ceremony one month and two days after the shooting that killed 20 small children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Obama was flanked by children who wrote him letters in the days after the massacre, pleading with him to do something to curb gun violence.
Obama began by reading excerpts from the letters written by some of the children on the stage.
“This is our first task as a society,” he said, “keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged, and their voices should compel us to change.”
Obama vowed that “in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds” to make his proposals a reality.
One of the administration’s top priorities is strengthening background checks by closing loopholes in existing law.
“Too often, irresponsible and dangerous individuals have been able to easily get their hands on firearms,” the White House said in a fact sheet describing Obama’s proposals. “We must strengthen our efforts to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands.” It said an estimated 40 percent of all gun sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from a federal requirement to check the buyer’s background.
“We should have a system where everybody has to get a background check,” said a senior administration official. “The best analogy that experts talked to us about in our meetings is that it wouldn’t make any sense at the airports to have two lanes - one where if you go to a licensed dealer you go through the metal detector and if you go to a private sale there’s no metal detector at all. This is an attempt to get everybody through the system.”
Obama’s plan also includes reinstating and strengthening the assault weapons ban, restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines, getting rid of armor-piercing bullets, ending a freeze on research into gun violence and providing additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime. It calls on Congress to pass a $4 billion proposal to help communities keep 15,000 police officers on the streets, as well as new gun trafficking legislation that would “impose serious penalties on those who help get guns into the hands of criminals,” according to the White House fact sheet.
The plan also aims to make schools safer, giving communities the opportunity to hire up to 1,000 school resource officers and school counselors.
Among the steps Obama is taking by executive action is the nomination of a new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF): Todd Jones, currently the agency’s acting director.
Senior administration officials insisted to reporters on a conference call Wednesday morning that Obama was committed to using his political capital to press for “aggressive action” by Congress.
“I think that there’s no question that this is an area where it’s always a tough battle,” one official said. “It took a lot of work” to pass the 1994 law that banned assault weapons and the 1993 legislation, known as the Brady bill, that instituted federal background checks for gun purchases,” the official said. “But the American people are overwhelmingly supportive of these steps.... So we see a real opportunity to get something done here.”
Obama’s proposals are the product of a month-long, interagency task force led by Vice President Biden to study comprehensively the nation’s gun violence. The group, which included several Cabinet members, held 22 meetings with representatives of more than 220 organizations - including those representing law enforcement and faith leaders, activists against gun violence, gun rights advocates, sportsmen and members of the entertainment and video game industries.
The task force group also spoke with more than 30 elected officials, Democrats and Republicans, who hold local, state and federal offices.
Among the executive actions Obama announced Wednesday were presidential memorandums requiring federal agencies to make relevant data available to the background-check system, ordering federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
The list also included a statement clarifying that the Affordable Care Act, his signature health-care initiative, “does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.”
Obama said further that the administration would provide law enforcement, first responders and school officials with “proper training for active shooter situations.” The Washington Post