President Obama: Stricter Gun Control and Background Checks

President Barack Obama announces steps the administration is taking to reduce gun violence while delivering a statement Tuesday in the East Room of the White House. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Landov

President Barack Obama Tuesday held his first press conference of the New Year announcing his plans to make gun control regulations already in place stricter. In light of the random mass shootings around the country in the past five years, the President addressed the nation, the press and victims of gun violence and families present in the room.

Obama discussed how more than 30,000 Americans have lost their lives by gun violence that includes suicides, domestic violence, accidents and gang shootings. He noted that the United States is not the only country with violent and dangerous people, but the U.S. frequency of violence surpasses other advanced countries. He said, “Instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized, partisan debates, despite the fact that there’s a general consensus in America about what needs to be done. That’s part of the reason why, on Thursday, I’m going to hold a town hall meeting in Virginia on gun violence. Because my goal here is to bring good people on both sides of this issue together for an open discussion.”

The announcement is an historic milestone for those who have fought for stricter gun control laws. Although opponents have challenged the President’s stance on suppressing 2nd Amendment rights, he said 90 percent of Americans supported that idea.  “Ninety percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea. But it failed because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against that idea,” Obama said.

Although Congress will still need to pass stricter laws, Obama is putting forward a series of executive actions to tighten up the rules and systems that are currently in place. He says commercial and independent owners selling firearms must be required to have a license and conduct background checks, or be subject to criminal prosecutions. This includes gun shows and Internet purchases.  Background checks will expand to cover violent criminals and those applicants that suffer from mental health. Federal medical health records on file that trigger mental health history will be submitted to the background check system and remove barriers that prevent states from reporting relevant information.

There will be a $500 million investment to expand access to more treatment around the country and to provide assistance to people who are at higher risk for inflicting harm on themselves and others.  Congresswoman Robin Kelly (IL) was pleased with today’s announcement. “The thing that is great about this is that we tend to blame mental health for everything and we want money for more research and more health,” Kelly said.

Photo Credit John Smierciak/Associated Press
Photo Credit John Smierciak/Associated Press

An advocate for gun violence prevention, Cong. Kelly is the Vice Chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force for the Democratic Caucus, as well as a member for the Congressional Black Caucus task force along with Michigan Rep. Brenda Lawrence.  “This will show that mental health should not get the blame for every gun shooting. One thing that people don’t realize – suicide is really very prevalent. There are mental issues there, but we tend to blame mental health for everything, which is not true. It’s really access to guns and they are so free-flowing,” Kelly said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel issue a statement regarding his fight to put in place stronger gun control mandates. “The President’s actions in the face of Congressional inaction send a forceful signal that this challenge is too important to ignore,” Emanuel said.  “While we have taken important steps in the City of Chicago to keep guns out of the wrong hands, we are not an island. Our gun safety laws will only be as effective as our federal laws and the laws of our neighboring states.  “So while I strongly support the President’s actions, I continue to urge Congress to put politics aside and adopt common-sense gun safety measures that will save lives and make our communities safer and stronger.”

As President Obama faces his final year in office, this is one of many gestures that will force executive actions on his part before the White House. As he recognized the young victims whose lives were taken too soon – from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, to the high schoolers at Columbine, to the first graders in Newton – he paused, wiping tears away. He said, “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.” 

Chicagoans noticed the Obama’s reference to the loss of lives due to gun violence in his hometown. Kelly said, “I was very pleased that he mentioned the ‘every day’ part, because often times we always talk about national things, but don’t talk about the every day murders that occur.  “There’s more that has to be done, like straw purchases and gun trafficking, but as much as we can keep guns out of dangerous hands or away from people with mental problems – that will help. It won’t stop everything, but we have to do everything we can.”

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