WASHINGTON — President Obama announced a series of executive actions on guns Tuesday, focusing on the victims of gun violence in a White House event intended to prod Congress to take further action.
Speaking to an East Room audience packed with the families of gun violence victims, gun owners and gun control advocates, an often emotional Obama singled out former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a mass shooting in Tuscon, Ariz., five years ago this week.
“I know the pain that she and her family have endured these past five years,” Obama said. “And then I think of all the Americans who are not as fortunate. Every single year, 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by gun violence.”
The executive actions — first previewed by the White House on Monday — would attempt to clamp down on unlicensed gun sellers who exploit an exception for hobbyists and collectors in order to avoid having to run criminal background checks on gun purchasers. Many of those sellers, Obama said, are running a business by selling guns at gun shows and online.
“The problem is that some gun sellers have been operating by a different set of rules,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Obama said the administration is also beefing up enforcement, streamlining the background check system, investing $500 million in mental health care and researching “smart gun” technology. “If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure they can’t pull a trigger on a gun,” he said.
Obama said the actions he’s taking are consistent with gun rights. “I believe in the Second Amendment. It’s there written on paper. It guarantees the right to bear arms. No matter how much people try to twist my words around, I taught constitutional law, I know a little bit about this. I get it,” he said. “This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns.”
Obama argued that just like the First Amendment doesn’t allow someone to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, there are common-sense measures that could keep guns out out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. And he argued that Second Amendment rights shouldn’t infringe on the rights of people to safely worship in Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Sikh temples and Muslim mosques — all of which have been targets of gun violence in recent years.
But Obama said any real solution would require congressional action. “Instead of focusing on how to solve the problem, this has become one of out most polarized, partisan debates,” Obama said a tone that moved from exasperation to incredulity. “How did we get here? How did we get to the place where people think expanded background checks is an excuse to take away people’s guns?”
He called on Americans to “demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.”
Obama was introduced by Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son Daniel was shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. “The fact of the matter is, every gun related death is preventable,” he said.
Obama recited a litany of mass shootings during his presidency, but paused and choked up at the 20 first-graders shot and killed at Sandy Hook.
“First graders,” he said, with tears running down his cheeks. “Every time I hear about those kids, it makes me mad.”