Memories of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown brought tears to President Barack Obama’s eyes Tuesday as he announced a series of executive actions designed to reduce gun violence in the United States.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day,” Obama said at a briefing at the White House.
Obama called his executive actions on guns a series of “common-sense steps” that would make it harder for dangerous individuals to obtain guns. He said that while the United States is not inherently more violent, mass shootings happen so frequently here that Americans have become numb to it.
“Instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized partisan debates, despite the fact that there’s a general consensus in American about what needs to be done,” he said.
“We have to feel a sense of urgency about it,” Obama continued. “That’s why we’re here today: not to debate the last mass shooting, but to do something to try to prevent the next one.”
Among the actions he is calling for is the requirement that anyone who sells guns – whether it be in stores, online or at gun shows – must obtain a license and conduct background checks. Those who fail to do so would be subject to criminal penalties, including up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
He said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is finalizing a rule that would prevent people from buying guns through trusts or corporations as a way of bypassing background checks.
Obama said he also wants to make the background check system more efficient by hiring more examiners and other staff members to assist with processing background checks, and making sure that they’re processed within the legally required three-day period. He also said the government would work to ensure that states are providing relevant information to the background check system, including criminal backgrounds and dispositions, relevant mental health information, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence.
He said that one in 30 people who were looking to buy guns on one website had a criminal background, and people buying online are often not subject to background checks.
“We’ve created a system in which dangerous people are allowed to play by a different set of rules than a responsible gun owner who buys his or her gun the right way and subjects themselves to a background check. That doesn’t make sense, everyone should have to abide by the same rules, most Americans and gun owners agree.”
He accused members of Congress and the gun lobby of hindering efforts to make the country safer.
“Even after San Bernardino, they’ve refused to make it harder for terror suspects who can’t get on a plane to buy a semiautomatic weapon. That’s not right, that can’t be right,” he said. “So the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they can’t hold America hostage.”
Obama’s series of executive actions also call for the hiring of 200 additional ATF agents, as well as $500 million to help people get better access to mental health care. He is also calling on the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to increase research into safer gun technology.
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