President Barack Obama formally announced plans to expand background checks to buy guns and impose other restrictions on firearms through executive action. The order bypasses Congress, further feeding sentiments about the administration’s overreach.
Obama’s emotional address, made from the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, was the latest in a series of attempts to make gun regulations stricter, this time without the help of Congress.
“Every year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns,” Obama said. The US is not inherently more prone to violence than anywhere else in the world, but the only advanced nation where gun violence is so frequent, he noted.
There is “a general consensus in America about what is to be done” about gun violence, Obama said. Restrictions on free speech do not overturn the First Amendment, and going through metal detectors at airports do not abolish privacy, the president argued – they are merely “part of the price of living in a civilized society.”
“This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns,” Obama said, to applause from the audience.
The president was introduced by Mark Barden, the father of a shooting victim at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Obama also referred to former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived a shooting in Arizona five years ago this week and was in attendance.
The measure will broaden the definition of a gun dealer and expand the mandatory background checks to private sales, including on what some call the “gun show loophole.” Gun sellers at flea markets, gun shows and online have been able to dodge federal requirements by choosing to forego a dealer’s license. The new executive action will expand the definition so that those individuals will be considered gun dealers as well.
The action will also mandate the hiring of more FBI personnel for the agency’s background check system, so the government can process background checks “24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” To enforce the new rules, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Arms and Explosives (ATF) will get 200 more agents.
Another part of the initiative will involve a $500 million request from Congress to increase access to mental health services, since many believe mental illness to be a major factor in mass shootings. Patient records concerning mental health will be shared with the background check database, Obama announced.
Technology should be developed to make guns safer, the president argued, including child-proofing and digital locks.
“If we can’t unlock our phone without having the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same for guns?” Obama said.
The president teared up as he brought up the first-graders killed in Newtown and urged Americans to “stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.”
Republican critics have accused the president of going too far with the action, calling it executive overreach, and have threatened to fight it by withholding Justice Department funding.
Obama, however, is trying his best to sell the measure to the American people. In addition to creating a “fact sheet” about the executive action on the White House website, he is set to join Anderson Cooper on CNN in an hour-long town hall on gun control this Thursday.
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