WASHINGTON (TIP): Wiping his tears as he remembered first grader children killed in a mass shooting, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newton, CT , an emotionally charged President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 5 ordered stricter gun control rules that he could impose without Congress and urged American voters to reject pro-gun candidates. Obama made it clear that he does not expect gun laws to change during his remaining year in office, but pledged to do what he can to make gun control a theme in the months leading up to the November elections to replace him.
In a powerful address in the White House, surrounded by family members of people killed in shootings, Obama’s voice rose to a yell as he said the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms needed to be balanced by the right to worship, gather peacefully and live their lives.
Obama has often said his toughest time in office was grappling with the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said, tears rolling down his cheek.
“That changed me, that day,” he said, after being introduced by Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son was killed in the shooting. “My hope earnestly has been that it would change the country.” After that tragedy, the Democratic president failed to persuade Congress to toughen U.S. gun laws. He has blamed lawmakers for being in the thrall of the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby group.
Obama, comparing the issue to the great civil rights causes of his time, is set to discuss gun violence again during his State of the Union address next Tuesday.
Obama laid out executive action he is taking to require more gun sellers to get licenses and more gun buyers to undergo background checks. Under the changes, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is issuing guidelines intended to narrow exceptions to a system that requires sellers to check with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether buyers have criminal records, are charged with crimes or have mental health conditions that would bar them from owning a gun.
The proposal is “ripe for abuse” by the government, said Chris Cox, an official with the NRA, in a statement, adding that the group will continue to fight to protect Americans’ constitutional rights.
Legal challenges to the changes, which are contained in guidance from the ATF, are expected.
The crucial question in any direct legal challenge will be whether the ATF guidance creates new obligations, or merely clarifies existing law.
The more the Obama administration acts as though the guidance has created a new legal requirement, the more legal trouble it might invite, said Lisa Heinzerling, administrative law professor at Georgetown University.
The stocks of gunmakers Smith & Wesson Holding Corp and Sturm Ruger & Co Inc have climbed since the announcement. On Tuesday, Smith & Wesson ended up 11.1 percent to $25.86 a share and Sturm Ruger closed up 6.8 percent at $65.54.
REPUBLICANS VOW TO FIGHT
Republican leaders were quick to denounce Obama’s gun changes, with most Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential race promising to reverse his actions if they win the White House.
Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, said the changes were “all about burnishing the president’s legacy and boosting Democrat enthusiasm in a presidential election year.”
Republicans who control Congress made it clear that they oppose the changes, although some downplayed their significance.
“Ultimately, this executive ‘guidance’ is only a weak gesture -a shell of what the president actually wants,” said Kevin McCarthy, leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
Democratic candidates praised the moves
Chris Murphy, U.S. Senator, Cheshire, Connecticut said, “I’m proud to stand with President Obama on the actions he’s taking to prevent gun violence”.
He made an impassioned plea for supporting President Obama’s move and for making Congress to act to control guns. : “For three years, Congress has failed the families of Newtown and victims of gun violence across the country”, Murphy said. .
“While Congress, bitterly divided over partisan politics, has been stalled on this issue, the rest of America has continued to grieve. Countless families have felt the pain and heartache of losing a loved one to gun violence — the same horrifying sting felt by those 26 families in Newtown on December 14, 2012.
“I represent those families in Congress. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t witness their pain, or share their utter bewilderment in our failure to do something about it.
“But we also remember the strength and resiliency of the Newtown community. We remember the teachers who protected those kids, who died shielding them with their bodies. We remember the first responders who rushed in to help. And we remember the millions of acts of kindness and gifts and phone calls that came in from the rest of the world.
“This is the spirit behind President Obama’s executive actions to reduce gun violence. He is doing what he can to prevent future gun violence because he knows that, as Americans, we cannot just close our eyes and blindly accept this as the status quo — especially when it threatens the safety of our children.
“Some of my colleagues in Congress have already raised their objections over these steps. Here’s my message to them: Stop listening to the gun lobby. If they listened to gun owners instead, the vast majority of whom support sensible steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands, this debate would be over already.
“We would have already acted. We would have passed universal background check legislation. We would have made straw purchasing and gun trafficking federal crimes to give law enforcement the tools to combat the flood of illegal weapons across state lines. We would have passed a ban on high-capacity magazines. We would have made it impossible for those on the FBI’s terror watch list to purchase a deadly firearm. Instead, we’ve done nothing.
“We should be listening to victims and families across the country who have been calling on us to act and do what we can to make the world safer for their children.
“But the President can only do so much — it’s up to Congress to do more. We must stand up to the gun lobby and do we what we can to prevent what happened in Newtown from ever happening again.
“What greater responsibility do we have?”
What Obama Executive action aims to do?
Keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is making clear that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business-from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.
- ATF is finalizing a rule to require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust, corporation, or other legal entity.
- Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has sent a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records and criminal dispositions, information on persons disqualified because of a mental illness, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient. The envisioned improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun. The FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners and other staff to help process these background checks.
Make our communities safer from gun violence
- The Attorney General convened a call with U.S. Attorneys around the country to direct federal prosecutors to continue to focus on smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.
- The President’s FY2017 budget will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws.
- ATF has established an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking and is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.
- ATF is finalizing a rule to ensure that dealers who ship firearms notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen in transit.
- The Attorney General issued a memo encouraging every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.
Increase mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system
- The Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care.
- The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
- The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.
Shape the future of gun safety technology
- The President has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology
- The President has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.