President Barack Obama announced today his intention to use executive action to promote the most stringent regulation of guns since the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Standing on stage with Vice President Joe Biden and several children who had written letters to the White House after the killings in Newtown, Conn., last month, the president sounded resolute as he ticked off the recommendations of the gun violence task force headed by the vice president.
“I am putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of (the vice president’s) task force,” Obama said. “In the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality.”
In his announcement, Obama outlined 23 executive actions that, he says, will be initiated immediately. These measures include increasing intra-agency information sharing relating to guns, green lighting new government funded gun violence research and doing more to treat mental health issues, particularly among affected young people.
“While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try” Obama said.
The president also proposed universal background checks, a ban on military type assault rifles, a ten round limit for ammunition magazines and eliminating armor piercing bullets. It’s up to Congress to act on these measures.
Citing the recent mass shootings in Tucson, Ariz.; Oak Creek, Wis.; Aurora, Colo.; and Newtown, the president made his case directly. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week, a majority of Americans support most of the proposals introduced by the president including banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“The only way we can change is if the American people demand it,” Obama said. “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.”
By working through executive action rather than moving a comprehensive gun control bill through Congress, Obama is circumventing the perils of having his proposed measures bogged down for weeks or months for Congress to act.
“These are a few of the 23 executive actions that I’m announcing today, but as important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress,” Obama said. “And I’m calling on Congress to pass some very specific proposals right away.”
Congressional support for a new gun control bill seems tepid at best. Last Friday, on Nevada Week in Review (a PBS program from KLVX in Las Vegas), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledged as much.
“In the Senate, we’re going to do what we think can get through the House and I’m not going to go through a bunch of these gyrations just to say we’ve done something,” Reid said. “Is [a gun control bill] something that can pass the Senate? Maybe. Is it something that can pass the House? I doubt it.”
When the assault weapons ban passed Congress in 1994, it was riddled with loopholes and exemptions. The definition of an “assault weapon” was narrowed as the language to describe them was expanded. Most significantly, though perhaps out of circumstance, the results of the ban are dubious.
“There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty,” Obama said today. “And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any commonsense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever.”
The president also called for Congress to appoint a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms — a post vacant for the last six years.
The proposed actions will cost an estimated $500 million.
The president’s announcement comes the day after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill toughening gun control laws. New York has been the first state to sign a new gun control law since the massacre in Newtown. The state Senate passed the bill on Monday — the one month anniversary of the shootings.
The announcement also comes the day after the National Rifle Association published a web video accusing the president of hypocrisy for allowing armed Secret Service officers to provide protection to his daughters at their school while questioning the effectiveness of the NRA’s proposal to install armed guards at schools nationally.
Immediately after making his announcement, the president signed the executive actions into law.
Shortly after the president’s announcement, the NRA released a statement saying, “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”
Updated at 3:35 p.m. ET