Just 33 days after the tragic massacre of 20 six and seven year olds and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama announced a comprehensive program to address gun violence, including 23 executive orders, based on the hearings held by Vice President Joe Biden. Obama noted that there is only so much he could do, and called upon Congress to require universal background checks and to reinstate the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
In that 33 days, Obama noted, 900 more people were shot dead.
But Obama warned that implementing gun safety laws would be a struggle.
"This will be difficult. There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty -- not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever.
"The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different -- that this time, we must do something to protect our communities and our kids. ...
"This will not happen unless the American people demand it. If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, if hunters and sportsmen, if responsible gun owners, if Americans of every background stand up and say, enough; we’ve suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue -- then change will come. That's what it's going to take...
"The most important changes we can make depend on congressional action. They need to bring these proposals up for a vote, and the American people need to make sure that they do....
"Ask your member of Congress if they support universal background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Ask them if they support renewing a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And if they say no, ask them why not.
"Ask them what’s more important -- doing whatever it takes to get a A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?"
Taking on those who are already accusing Obama of trampling the Constitution and acting as a tyrant, Obama spoke of his respect for the Second Amendment, but added, "This is the land of the free, and it always will be. As Americans, we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights that no man or government can take away from us. But we've also long recognized, as our Founders recognized, that with rights come responsibilities. Along with our freedom to live our lives as we will comes an obligation to allow others to do the same. We don’t live in isolation. We live in a society, a government of, and by, and for the people. We are responsible for each other.
"The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The right to assemble peaceably, that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech, and high school students at Columbine, and elementary school students in Newtown, and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate, and all the families who’ve never imagined that they’d lose a loved one to a bullet -- those rights are at stake. We’re responsible."
Let me be absolutely clear. Like most Americans, I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. I respect our strong tradition of gun ownership and the rights of hunters and sportsmen. There are millions of responsible, law-abiding gun owners in America who cherish their right to bear arms for hunting, or sport, or protection, or collection.
I also believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale. I believe most of them agree that if America worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one that occurred in Newtown. That’s what these reforms are designed to do. They’re common-sense measures. They have the support of the majority of the American people.
"And yet, that doesn’t mean any of this is going to be easy to enact or implement. If it were, we’d already have universal background checks. The ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines never would have been allowed to expire. More of our fellow Americans might still be alive, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and graduations."
Pointing to the specific proposals based on Biden's task force, Obama said, "I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality. Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try."
The 23 executive actions Obama signed are aimed at giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence.
"We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system. We will help schools hire more resource officers if they want them and develop emergency preparedness plans. We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence -- even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.
"And while year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it -- and Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds. We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.
"These are a few of the 23 executive actions that I’m announcing today. But as important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress. To make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act -- and Congress must act soon. And I’m calling on Congress to pass some very specific proposals right away.
"First: It’s time for Congress to require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun. The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check. That’s not safe. That's not smart. It’s not fair to responsible gun buyers or sellers.
"If you want to buy a gun -- whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller -- you should at least have to show you are not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from buying one. This is common sense. And an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with us on the need for universal background checks -- including more than 70 percent of the National Rifle Association’s members, according to one survey. So there’s no reason we can’t do this.
"Second: Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines. (Applause.) The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with high-capacity magazines, has one purpose -- to pump out as many bullets as possible, as quickly as possible; to do as much damage, using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.
"And that's what allowed the gunman in Aurora to shoot 70 people -- 70 people -- killing 12 in a matter of minutes. Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater. A majority of Americans agree with us on this.
"And, by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994, urging them -- this is Ronald Reagan speaking -- urging them to “listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of [military-style assault] weapons.”
"And finally, Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this. Since Congress hasn’t confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm Todd Jones, who will be -- who has been Acting, and I will be nominating for the post.
"And at a time when budget cuts are forcing many communities to reduce their police force, we should put more cops back on the job and back on our streets."
Biden: "We Have a Moral Obligation'
Vice President Biden said, "No one can know for certain if this senseless act could have been prevented, but we all know we have a moral obligation -- a moral obligation -- to do everything in our power to diminish the prospect that something like this could happen again.
As the President knows, I’ve worked in this field a long time -- in the United States Senate, having chaired a committee that had jurisdiction over these issues of guns and crime, and having drafted the first gun violence legislation -- the last gun violence legislation, I should say. And I have no illusions about what we’re up against or how hard the task is in front of us. But I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook. The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.
It’s in this context that the President asked me to put together, along with Cabinet members, a set of recommendations about how we should proceed to meet that moral obligation we have. And toward that end, the Cabinet members and I sat down with 229 groups -- not just individuals, representing groups -- 229 groups from law enforcement agencies to public health officials, to gun officials, to gun advocacy groups, to sportsmen and hunters and religious leaders. And I’ve spoken with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, had extensive conversations with mayors and governors and county officials.
And the recommendations we provided to the President on Monday call for executive actions he could sign, legislation he could call for, and long-term research that should be undertaken. They're based on the emerging consensus we heard from all the groups with whom we spoke, including some of you who are victims of this god-awful occurrence -- ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands, as well as ways to take comprehensive action to prevent violence in the first place.
We should do as much as we can, as quickly as we can. And we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So some of what you will hear from the President will happen immediately; some will take some time. But we have begun. And we are starting here today and we’re going to resolve to continue this fight."
Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions
Today, the President announced that he and the Administration will:
1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.
McCarthy, Cuomo Hail Obama's Measures
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Long Island), who has made gun violence prevention a singular priority for her as a legislator after her husband was murdered and her son critically injured by the Long Island gunman, is the sponsor of three gun safety bills, and was at the event today. In response to President Obama’s announcement, she stated, “Today we have a new path to reducing gun violence thanks to the leadership of President Obama.
“The president is putting a substantial amount of weight behind the effort to reduce gun violence, and this will save lives in our country.
“He’s taking a holistic approach to the problem, looking at not just the most dangerous weapons, but also at mental health and education.
“For the first time in almost 20 years, we have a president showing very strong leadership on the need to reduce gun violence, including the need for better restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, the need for a better background check system, and the need to crack down on illegal gun trafficking.
“The president has acted, and now it’s Congress’s turn to act too. Congress must not stand idly by while innocent Americans are killed on a daily basis for no reason.
“As the sponsor of bills to ban high-capacity magazines and improve our background check system, and soon a new assault weapons ban, I’m excited to work with the president, my colleagues and the American people on these measures.
“It’s great to have the president’s support because that’s going to make a huge difference.
“But it’s not just him -- There’s an unprecedented level of support for better and more effective gun safety laws in our country than ever before.
“There’s no question that after the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, this time is different.
“We are hearing from more people than we've ever heard before.
“People are sick and tired of a small part of the population with a lot of money -- the gun manufacturing lobby -- blocking any effort to keep the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people.
“And the polls prove it – one after another recently is showing that the majority of the American people, including gun owners, support measures designed to keep the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people.
“So today we forge ahead, with the president and the American people behind us, to continue to work to reduce gun violence in America. These efforts can save lives, and we will fight hard to enact them.”
Meanwhile, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, who just the day before signed the most comprehensive gun control legislation in the nation, commented, "Today President Obama proposed a series of common sense measures that would strengthen federal laws to protect all Americans from gun violence, including universal background checks for all gun sales and a new ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. In addition, the executive actions the President took today will be a big help in the fight to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people, and keep our schoolchildren safe from harm. As many of the illegal guns in New York come from out of state, I strongly applaud the President's proposal for tougher gun trafficking laws that will help to end the proliferation of lethal weapons across state lines.
"These are reasonable and sensible proposals that have nothing to do with the right to bear arms, or the interests of hunters or sportsmen. Our nation has experienced far too much bloodshed as a result of gun violence, and the time for action is now. I commend the President for his leadership and swift action to stem the tide of gun violence, and I pledge my full support to seeing these proposals put into law. We have done it here in New York, and Congress should stand with the President to make our nation a safer place for all."
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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