President Barack Obama announced his gun safety plans Wednesday, signing 23 executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence and urging Congress to enact tougher laws including universal background checks for gun buyers, a restored assault weapons ban, and a 10-round limit for magazines.
Vice President Joe Biden, who chaired a taskforce that compiled a list of recommendations for reducing gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, introduced the president.
“We have a moral obligation to diminish the prospect of something like this happening again,” Biden declared. “The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.”
President Obama then took the stage, and began by introducing four of the many children who wrote letters to the White House in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. “While reducing gun violence is a complicated challenge, protecting our children from harm shouldn’t be a divisive one,” the president said before laying out several of the executive orders that he would sign at the conclusion of the speech.
“As soon as I’m finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence,” Obama said.
“We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system,” the president continued. “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.”
Obama also pledged to direct the Centers for Disease Control to study the causes of gun violence, noting, “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.”
Talking Points Memo has a full list of the 23 executive actions Obama signed.
The president went on to acknowledge that his executive actions are “in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress.” To that end, Obama called on Congress to take five specific actions to reduce gun violence.
First, the president asked Congress to require a universal background check for anyone buying a gun. Noting that “as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check,” Obama argued that the disparity is “not fair to responsible gun buyers or sellers.” He also pointed out that a majority of Americans — including more than 70 percent of NRA members — support such a law.
Next, he called for the renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004. He also specified a 10-round limit for magazines, to prevent the type of attack that occurred in Aurora, CO over the summer.
“Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater. A majority of Americans agree with us on this,” Obama said. “And, by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment,” he added in a preemptive jab at his right-wing critics.
The president went on to urge Congress to “help, rather than hinder, law enforcement” by confirming Todd Jones as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Jones has been serving as interim director since 2011; the Senate has not confirmed a single director since 2006, when the law changed to grant that power to the upper chamber.
Finally, Obama implored Congress to ease budget cuts in order to “put more cops back on the job and back on our streets.”
While the president stressed that his proposals are all “common-sense measures” that are supported by a majority of the American people, he conceded that passing serious reform through Congress 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,” he warned.
Ultimately, Obama put the responsibility on the American people to pressure their lawmakers into doing the right thing.
“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,” the president said. “This time must be different.”
“Let’s do the right thing,” he concluded. “Let’s do the right thing for them and for this country that we love so much.”
A full transcript of President Obama’s remarks can be read here