Obama Introduces Options for Curbing Gun Violence, Saying ‘We’re Responsible’
President Obama unveiled his administration's plan to address gun violence in the United States today, including 23 executive orders that would include 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.”
Fulfilling his promise to quickly address the issue in the wake of the December shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 students and six adults dead, Obama said he is willing to sign the executive orders, which do not require Congressional approval. The other, arguably more effective proposals would have to pass through Congress, and the president urged community stakeholders and constituents to make their voices heard on the matter, helping lead the effort against an "epidemic of gun violence.”
“[These directives] are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress," Obama said. "To make a real and lasting difference, Congress too must act, and Congress must act soon."
Obama’s directives will strengthen the background check system for gun purchases, help schools develop emergency preparedness plans, and aid mental health professionals in reporting and addressing threats of violence. Though he stressed the role mental illness played in recent shootings, Obama was careful to acknowledge that “someone with a mental illness is much more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.”
The president also said he'd support increased research by the Centers for Disease Control into the causes of gun violence so they can “study the best ways to reduce it.”
“We don’t benefit from ignorance,” Obama said. “We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who created a task-force investigating gun violence and its causes, said he spoke with 229 groups from law enforcement to gun officials, gun advocates, sportsmen, hunters and religious leaders. Biden reiterated the president’s call to action but alluded to some potential roadblocks ahead.
Gun advocates, including the National Rifle Association, have voiced their opposition to any legislation that would regulate the availability of guns or ammunition, even suggesting that the president could be impeached if he enforces the expected executive orders.
But public opinion had Biden hopeful.
“No one can know for certain if this senseless act could have been prevented,” said Biden, who joined Obama on stage during the press conference. “We all know we have a moral obligation to do everything in our power to diminish the prospect that something like this could happen again. But, I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook. The world has changed and it’s demanding action.”
Recent polls show some of the change Biden hinted at, with more than half of Americans in favor of increased regulations, with emerging demographics like Millennials making up a large chunk of the pie. And just this week, New York officials passed new legislation with bipartisan support that gives the state some of the strictest laws in the country.
Obama said that if Congress fails to act, they may leave fundamental American rights and our safety in the lurch.
"The right to worship freely and safely—that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin," the president said. "The right to assemble peaceably—that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness—fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech, and high school students at Columbine, and elementary school students in Newtown, and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate, and all the families who’ve never imagined that they’d lose a loved one to a bullet—those rights are at stake. We’re responsible."
Kevin Jersey is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @wordsnotbullets.