Saying that America faces a “gun violence epidemic,” President Obama is taking “a series of commonsense executive actions” to reduce gun violence Tuesday, the White House says. First among the measures: tighter rules on background checks for gun buyers.
President Obama made his case during a live address from the East Room of the White House Tuesday. We’ve updated this post with news from the president’s speech.
“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency,” Obama said. “It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close.”
The president invoked his own and gun owners’ views on constitutional rights — and he also invoked numerous mass shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn., late in 2012. He grew emotional at the end of his speech, at one point giving up attempts to wipe away tears from his eyes as he spoke.
The executive actions were announced Monday afternoon, with the White House saying the steps were necessary because Congress failed to take action.
Update at 12:25 p.m. ET: A Heroic Example
President Obama tells the story of Zaevion Dobson, the 15-year-old high school student who saved the lives of three girls when he dove on top of them during a shooting in December.
“An act of heroism a lot bigger than anything we should ever expect from a 15-year-old,” Obama says.
“We are not asked to do what Zaevion Dobson did,” the president says. “We’re not asked to have shoulders that big, a heart that strong, reactions that quick.”
He added that those who want to see change in America’s gun policies should work through obstacles, “and do what a sensible country would do.”
Update at 12:18 p.m. ET: ‘The Rest Of Our Rights’
Saying that Second Amendment rights matter, President Obama states:
“There are other rights that we care about, as well, and we have to be able to balance them. Because our right to worship freely and safely — that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, S.C.; and that was denied Jews in Kansas City; and that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too.”
He then says the right of peaceful assembly has been robbed in movie theaters in Colorado and Louisiana — and the pursuit of happiness and liberty has also been taken away in attacks on schools.
“Those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg, in Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers in Columbine, and from first graders in Newtown.”
While applause had followed the president’s listing of those events, his final words about students were said after an emotional pause; they were greeted with silence in the room.
The president repeated: “First graders.”
As he attempted to move on with his speech, Obama paused to wipe a tear from his eye.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” he said, his eyes now wet with tears. “And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”
Update at 12:15 p.m. ET: Role Of Technology
“If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure they can’t pull a trigger on a gun,” Obama says.
He compares “smart guns” to smartphones that require a fingerprint the device, and mentions trackers that could help find a stolen gun.
Update at 12:10 p.m. ET: The Plan
President Obama starts outlining the four steps he’s taking via executive action, from closing the gun show loophole to expanding background checks to catch people trying to evade controls by making purchases through corporations or other entities. Improved mental health care is also in the plan.
The president’s plan rests on four main points:
- Background Checks: Require all gun sellers — including online and at gun shows — to have a license and perform background checks. Have the FBI overhaul the existing background-check system.
- Enforcement: Improve the use of America’s existing gun laws, and add 200 new agents to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
- Mental Health: Remove barriers that can keep states from reporting and sharing information about people barred from owning guns for mental health reasons, and spend $500 million to increase access to mental health care.
- Technology: Push for research in gun safety technology, such as “smart guns” that can only be fired by authorized users. The research would be done by the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. The White House notes the federal government is “the single largest purchaser of firearms in the country.”
Update at 12:07 p.m. ET: ‘That’s Not Right’
Obama faults Congress for making it more difficult to track and research gun violence in America, saying that public health experts now have more trouble collecting data and facts.
He adds that people who can’t board a plane can still buy guns in America.
“That’s not right,” Obama says. “That can’t be right.”
He then says, “The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now. But they cannot hold America hostage. We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom.” — prompting a standing ovation from the audience.
Update at 12:03 p.m. ET: ‘We Can Save Some’ Victims
“We maybe can’t save everybody, but we can save some,” Obama says, acknowledging that stopping every gun attack is likely an impossible goal.
He says that in Connecticut, gun deaths dropped 40 percent after the state began requiring background checks and gun safety courses — while in Missouri, gun deaths rose to almost 50 percent above the national average after the state repealed gun control laws on background checks and permits.
Update at 11:58 a.m. ET: ‘Different Set Of Rules’
Obama says it’s time to end the system in which some gun buyers operate under a “different set of rules” from others.
Recalling the 2013 failure to approve gun control legislation in the Senate, Obama says it failed because of Republican resistance.
“How did this become such a partisan issue?” Obama asks, quoting calls for better background checks from former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain.
Update at 11:55 a.m. ET: The Second Amendment
“I taught constitutional law. I know a little about this,” Obama said, insisting on his belief in the protections for gun owners. He adds that he thinks the right should be balanced with other protections.
And he says many gun owners agree with him.
“A majority of gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale,” Obama says.
He says there’s no “slippery slope” to erode gun owners’ rights and confiscate guns.
Update at 11:51 a.m. ET: Town Hall Meeting Thursday
The president says he’ll host a town hall meeting in Virginia to hear from both sides of the issue.
Calling for a sense of urgency about the issue, Obama says it’s time “not to debate the last mass shooting, but to try to prevent the next one.”
Update at 11:48 a.m. ET: Giffords Acknowledged
Obama notes that former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot and barely survived in a 2011 attack in Tucson, Ariz., is attendance, setting off a wave of applause.
“I know the pain that she and her family have endured these past five years,” Obama says, noting the recovery efforts Giffords has undertaken.
“Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns,” Obama says.
He adds that there’s resilience in the room, along with heartache, among the survivors of gun violence.
Update at 11:45 a.m. ET: Obama Speaks
The president was greeted with a loud and sustained ovation after he was introduced by Mark Barden, who lost his son in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Obama recalled speaking with Barden after that tragedy.
“That changed me that day,” Obama said, adding that he hoped it would also change the country.
The president then listed a string of shootings, in Aurora, Colo., the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
Our original post continues:
“We have tens of thousands of people every single year who are killed by guns,” Obama said Monday. “We have suicides that are committed by firearms at a rate that far exceeds other countries. We have a frequency of mass shootings that far exceeds other countries.”
In a public opinion poll from last August, 85 percent of Americans said they’re in favor of expanding background checks, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Those in support included 88 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans.
The National Rifle Association has criticized Obama’s plan, calling it “a political stunt.” In 2013, the group worked to block enhanced gun control legislation that was introduced in the wake of the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
Today, President Obama was introduced by Mark Barden, who lost his son in that shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
As NPR’s Scott Horsley reported Monday, “ATF will play a central role in the administration’s move, by clarifying what it means to be ‘engaged in the business’ of selling guns. Until now, some collectors and hobbyists have been able to avoid that designation.”
Scott added, “the FBI is hiring 230 additional staff people to speed the processing of background checks.”
Gun sales have reportedly been up, as buyers worried it might become harder or impossible to purchase some weapons.
Some of those buyers visited a gun store and shooting range in Lorton, Va., where customer Sherry Shoske told NPR’s Eyder Peralta on Monday that she recently bought an Uzi “because I thought that [Obama] was going to be making changes, so I should buy any gun that I want to buy before he makes the changes.”
Several customers at the store acknowledged that America has a problem with gun violence — and that some rules should change. But they also said the issue is too complex for quick fixes.
One customer, Chris Harto, told Eyder, “It’s easy to say if we didn’t have guns this wouldn’t happen. But the reality is, there’s over 300 million guns in this country, and they’re not going to go away.”