Tearful President Obama, announcing gun control steps, condemns shootings
Washington (Nytimes + DIPLOMAT.SO) – As tears streamed down his face, President Obama on Tuesday condemned the repeated spasms of gun violence across America as he announced new executive actions intended to reduce the number of mass shootings, suicides and killings that have become routine in the nation’s communities.
Speaking in the East Room of the White House surrounded by gun control activists and the families of gun victims, Mr. Obama broke down as he spoke about the young children shot to death in 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
“First graders,” he said, his eyes drifting to a distant place and becoming red with tears. The president wiped his eye and paused to regain his composure. “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” he said.
It was not the first time that Mr. Obama has been overcome by emotion while talking about gun violence. And his message was the same as it has been in the aftermath of numerous mass shootings: a plea for action to enact universal background checks and overhaul gun laws.
“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they can’t hold America hostage,” Mr. Obama said. “Congress still needs to act. The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does.”
But having failed in his push for new gun laws three years ago, Mr. Obama conceded Tuesday that “it won’t happen overnight, it won’t happen during this Congress, it won’t happen during my presidency.”
Instead, Mr. Obama said, he is directing his law enforcement agencies and other parts of the government to do what they can without Congress. “Once Congress gets on board with common sense gun safety measures,” he said, “we can reduce gun violence a whole lot more. But we also can’t wait.”
Mr. Obama will seek to expand the number of gun buyers who are subject to criminal background checks by clarifying existing law. He will also hire more personnel to process background checks, direct officials to conduct more gun research, encourage more domestic violence prosecutions and order better tracking of lost guns, officials said.
The efforts are an attempt to sidestep Congress on an issue that has become increasingly divisive politically. But the modest steps Mr. Obama will announce stop well short of the type of large-scale changes to the gun trade that Congress rejected three years ago. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, which killed 26 people, mostly young children, Mr. Obama vowed to seek new gun laws from Congress that would require background checks for all firearms purchases. That effort failed.
On Tuesday, Chris W. Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association, accused Mr. Obama of engaging in “political rhetoric instead of offering meaningful solutions” and said the president’s actions would do little to keep Americans safe.
“The American people do not need more emotional, condescending lectures that are completely devoid of facts,” Mr. Cox said in a statement. “The men and women of the National Rifle Association take a back seat to no one when it comes to keeping our communities safe. But the fact is that President Obama’s proposals would not have prevented any of the horrific events he mentioned.”
The House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, released a statement. “From Day 1,” he said, “the president has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding. He knows full well that the law already says that people who make their living selling firearms must be licensed, regardless of venue. Still, rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.
“No matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment. We will conduct vigilant oversight. His executive order will no doubt be challenged in the courts. Ultimately, everything the president has done can be overturned by a Republican president, which is another reason we must win in November.”
In the days after the terrorist attack that killed 14 people on Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, Calif., Mr. Obama talked about its similarities with other mass shootings and said it showed the need for gun restrictions. But his decision to move ahead on his own has caused outrage among Republicans, who say that the president is abusing the power of his office by attempting to expand background checks without the explicit approval from lawmakers.
In a statement from the campaign trail Tuesday morning, Jeb Bush echoed comments from his Republican rivals for the presidential nomination.
“Rather than taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens as Obama and Clinton would like to do, we should focus on keeping guns out of the hands of the terrorists who want to kill innocent Americans,” Mr. Bush said. “My commitment to responsible gun owners is clear. As president of the United States, I will defend the Second Amendment, always.”