WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama unveiled an array of measures on Tuesday tightening control and enforcement of firearms in the U.S., using his presidential powers in the absence of legal changes he implored Congress to pass.
Obama accused the gun lobby of taking Congress hostage, but said "they cannot hold America hostage." He insisted it was possible to uphold the Second Amendment while doing something to tackle the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S. that he said had become "the new normal."
Obama wiped tears from his cheeks as he spoke emotionally about the victims of gun violence.
"This is not a plot to take away everybody's guns," Obama said in a ceremony in the East Room. "You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm. The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules."
At the centerpiece of Obama's plan is a more sweeping definition of gun dealers that the administration hopes will expand the number of sales subject to background checks. Under current law, only federally licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks on buyers. But at gun shows, websites and flea markets, sellers often skirt that requirement by declining to register as licensed dealers. So new federal guidance from the Obama administration clarified that it applies to anyone "in the business" of selling firearms.
The White House also put sellers on notice that the administration planned to strengthen enforcement — including deploying 230 new examiners the FBI will hire to process background checks.
To lend a personal face to the issue, the White House assembled a cross-section of Americans whose lives were altered by the nation's most searing recent gun tragedies, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and relatives of victims from Charleston, S.C., at Virginia Tech. Mark Barden, whose son was shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School, introduced the president with a declaration that "we are better than this."
Invoking the words of Martin Luther King Jr., Obama said, "We need to feel the fierce urgency of now."
Oklahoma Senator James Lankford sent a statement not long after the speech saying, "All Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, are broken-hearted by senseless acts of violence, especially towards children. As we grieve for those who are affected by violence, we must evaluate the root causes that lead to violence, like broken families, mental health, drug use and a culture that glorifies violence. Just like the 23 executive actions on guns the President released in 2013, the latest round of executive actions generally misses the root causes of violence in our culture. Law-abiding Americans have a constitutionally-protected right that has been upheld by the Highest Court in the land for decades. A President who aggressively demeans the rights of law-abiding citizens fails to achieve real policy goals, and actually increases the sales of guns and ammunition since people are rightfully concerned about the future of their Second Amendment rights."
U.S. Senator James Inhofe also sent a statement saying, "In an effort to show off to his liberal base, Obama announced several executive actions on gun control that would not have prevented any of the mass shootings that he claims inspired this push. For months he has had his staff working night and day to find ways for him to push his gun control agenda unilaterally while we’ve been waiting years for any leadership or a clear strategy for the Middle East, ISIL and Syria. Ft. Hood, Chattanooga and San Bernardino were [sic] terrorist attacks that have happened here, in America, and we need to make sure that we are strengthening our borders, our visa programs and our surveillance of possible terror suspects before we try and curb Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights when they need them the most.”