President Barack Obama unveiled a series of executive actions on gun violence, which he deemed necessary given the lack of action from Congress, even in the face of popular support for such measures as expanding background checks for gun purchases.
“Maybe we can’t save everybody, but we can save some,” Obama said in a speech in the East Room of the White House, where he was joined by survivors and families of the victims of gun violence.
Obama wiped away tears as he recalled the children killed in the 2012 Newtown, Conn., shooting rampage. He noted that tragedy didn’t translate into congressional action, even for measures that enjoy lopsided support among the American public. Legislation to expand background checks was blocked in 2013.
“The gun lobby may be able to hold Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage,” he said.
A central feature of his actions are steps to expand the definition of who is a gun dealer, as those in the business of selling guns are currently required to perform background checks before making a sale. A big push among groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has been to close loopholes on sales of guns on the Internet and at gun shows. Although the executive action would not fall short of preventing all sales of guns without background checks, Obama said that it would expand the number of people and entities who will fall under existing law. He also unveiled measures to improve the background check system.
He also talked of the need to boost research on gun violence and gun safety, and to boost funding for mental health.
His speech was met with criticism from House Speaker Paul Ryan, and some GOP candidates already have accused Obama of trying to limit access to guns by law-abiding gun owners.
“From day one, the president has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding,” Ryan said in a statement.
But Obama said that his moves are “not a plot to take away” guns and that background checks are not “some slippery slope to gun confiscation.” He didn’t mention Donald Trump by name, but his reference was to some of his rhetoric.
Instead, Obama compared his actions to efforts to boost safety in cars and even toys.
“We know that there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people,” he said.
Some of his proposals — like a $500 million investment in mental health services and budget items for 200 new ATF agents — still require congressional support.
When it comes to background checks, his executive action hinges on just what qualifies as being in the business of selling firearms, as many who seek sales online or at gun shows claim to be hobbyists. In fact, Obama’s speech was aimed at keeping up a sense of urgency on the issue, even if congressional action to further expand background checks is doubtful in the near future.
Obama will participate on Thursday in a town hall on gun violence.