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Obama: Excuses for inaction on guns ‘no longer suffice’

January 5, 2016 at 6:45 PM EDT
U.S. President Barack Obama is seen in tears while delivering a statement on steps the administration is taking to reduce gun violence in the East Room of the White House in Washington January 5, 2016. Vice President Joe Biden is at right. REUTERS/Carlos Barria  - RTX215LR

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president delivered a lengthy, emotional speech as he unveiled new steps today to reduce gun violence.

Republicans quickly denounced many of his remarks, and others wondered just how much impact his changes could have in a country where Americans own an estimated 300 million guns.

Victims’ families hailed many of the measures, and the president argued that — quote — “We maybe cannot save everybody, but we could save some.”

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Fort Hood. Binghamton. Aurora. Oak Creek. Newtown. The Navy Yard. Santa Barbara. Charleston. San Bernardino. Too many.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With that litany of mass shootings, President Obama announced his decision to use executive action.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: People are dying. And the constant excuses for inaction no longer suffice.

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.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The audience was filled with victims of gun violence, including former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who received a standing ovation when she arrived.

Standing behind the president were other survivors and family members of people killed by guns over the past 20 years. They included parents of some of the 26 slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

The president was moved to tears over the 20 children who died there.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.


JUDY WOODRUFF: After Newtown, Mr. Obama tried to get Congress to pass comprehensive background checks for gun buyers, but he failed. Today, he declared it can’t end there.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So, the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Now he’s using presidential powers for a limited effort to expand private gun sales subject to background checks.

To do that, the government will widen the definition of gun dealers and sellers to include gun shows, Web sites and flea markets. And the FBI will hire 230 background check processors to help strengthen enforcement.

A recent Harvard study found that up to 40 percent of guns purchased in the U.S. don’t go through any background checks at all.

Separately, Mr. Obama called today for more research into technologies to keep guns safe.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun.



JUDY WOODRUFF: On the presidential campaign trail, Republican candidates roundly rejected President Obama’s actions.

Ted Cruz was in Iowa.

SEN. TED CRUZ, Republican Presidential Candidate: I can tell you right now those executive orders are not worth the paper they are printed on, because, when you live by the pen, you die by the pen, and my pen has got an eraser.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Jeb Bush spoke in New Hampshire.

FORMER GOV. JEB BUSH, Republican Presidential Candidate: It’s not going to solve any problems by having the so-called gun show loophole be taken — taken care of by executive order. The president doesn’t have authority to do it. If there is an issue related to federal gun laws, then he ought to go to Congress and try to forge consensus to make it happen. He doesn’t have this power.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president had anticipated some of the reaction, insisting he’s within his authority and that he’s upholding the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Contrary to the claims of what some gun rights proponents have suggested, this hasn’t been the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation. Contrary to claims of some presidential candidates, apparently, before this meeting, this is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, the president may need additional funding from Congress for mental health care and extra FBI workers, money the Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to approve.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan made that clear today in a statement that said — quote — “His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”

Meanwhile, gun sales are soaring. More guns were sold in December, after the attacks in San Bernardino, California, than almost any month in the last 20 years.