In an emotional speech Wednesday, President Obama announced a series of steps his administration will take to try to curb the epidemic of gun violence that claims more than 30,000 lives in our country each year. The measures he announced were more far-reaching than some had expected.
The 40-minute speech is well worth watching (text continues below video):
“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency,” Obama said, citing a list of mass shootings from Aurora to San Bernardino. “It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close. And as I’ve said before, somehow we’ve become numb to it and we start thinking that this is normal.”
The president was introduced by Mark Barden, father of one of the 20 small children killed at Sandy Hook. Standing behind Obama as he spoke were other relatives of victims of mass shootings.
The president’s decision to take executive action comes after Republicans in Congress, partnering with the far-right National Rifle Association, have consistently blocked even the most modest gun control measures. A bill to expand background checks introduced in Congress after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy was defeated by a wall of Republican opposition. “Ninety percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea. But it failed because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against that idea,” Obama noted.
“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage,” he declared.
“Congress still needs to act,” Obama said. “But we also can’t wait. Until we have a Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives — actions that protect our rights and our kids.”
The measures he announced include:
* Expanding gun-seller licensing requirement to include sellers at gun shows or via the Internet.
* Expanding and overhauling the flawed background check system.
* Beefing up gun law enforcement, including tracking lost and stolen guns.
* Increased attention to domestic violence cases.
* Major expansion of mental health care.
* Investing in gun safety technology, for example to prevent children from accidentally firing a gun.
Much more detail is provided here.
Obama spoke eloquently about the protecting the rights enshrined in the Constitution – not just the Second Amendment but others too:
“All of us should be able to work together to find a balance that declares the rest of our rights are also important — Second Amendment rights are important, but 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, South Carolina. (Applause.) And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. (Applause.) They had rights, too. (Applause.)
“Our right to peaceful assembly — that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown. First-graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun.
“Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day. (Applause.)”
He concluded, “Yes, the gun lobby is loud and it is organized in defense of making it effortless for guns to be available for anybody, any time. Well, you know what, the rest of us, we all have to be just as passionate. We have to be just as organized in defense of our kids. This is not that complicated. The reason Congress blocks laws is because they want to win elections. And if you make it hard for them to win an election if they block those laws, they’ll change course, I promise you.”
“And, yes, it will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my presidency. But a lot of things don’t happen overnight. A woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight. The liberation of African Americans didn’t happen overnight. LGBT rights — that was decades’ worth of work. So just because it’s hard, that’s no excuse not to try.”
The text of Obama’s remarks is here.
Photo: President Barack Obama tears up as he delivers remarks to announce steps that the administration is taking to reduce gun violence, in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 5, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)