As he begins the final year of his tenure, President Barack Obama today (January 5) detailed a series of executive actions aimed at decreasing gun violence. It comes after years of unsuccessfully pushing Congress to pass legislation that would make it harder for criminals and people suffering from certain specific mental illnesses to buy deadly weapons.
Flanked by survivors of gun violence and victims’ families, Obama held an emotionally charged press conference this morning to outline his plan. In it, he talked about the importance of preventing the next mass shooting:
Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns…. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. 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. And instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized, partisan debates, despite the fact a there is a general consensus about what needs to be done. …
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. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They have rights, too. Our right to peaceful assembly, that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our inalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara. 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.
The president was moved to tears when talking about deaths in Newtown and in Chicago, and he implored voters to consider their leaders’ gun reform records when they go to the polls. "If you make it hard for them to win an election if they block those laws, they’ll change course, I promise," he said. "Just because it’s hard, that’s not excuse not to try." He also announced a town hall on gun violence set for January 7.
Key points of his plan:
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is finalizing a background check rule that will require all gun sellers (online, at gun shows and in retail shops) to require a license and conduct a check. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also updating the background system for efficacy and efficiency to allow for checks to go through 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The system will also loop in local law enforcement when people who are unauthorized to purchase guns attempt to do it anyway. The upgrade will come with the addition of 230 staffers to process those checks.
- ATF will add 200 new investigators and agents to enforce gun laws, is directing $4 million to its National Integrated Ballistics Information Network and is finalizing a rule that requires gun dealers to contact law enforcement when guns are lost or stolen. In addition, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has directed federal prosecutors to focus their attention on effective enforcement and to double down on domestic violence outreach.
- The Administration has also proposed a $500 million increase in funding for mental health care, and the Social Security Administration will soon create a rule that will add mental health info to background checks for all beneficiaries. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services will soon open the door for all states to report relevant information for people who are barred from gun ownership due to certain specific mental health diagnoses.
- When it comes to the future of gun safety, the Department of Justice, Department of Defense and Homeland Security will soon embark on research to explore how technology can be used to make guns safer.
Learn more about the executive orders here, and watch the full speech above.