More than four million Americans were victims of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving a gun in the last decade, more than 20,000 of them were children under 18, according to official statistics. Last year alone, more than 30,000 people were killed by guns and two thirds of them committed suicide with a firearm – a fact that President Barack Obama stressed during his remarks in the White House East Room on Tuesday.
“The United States of America is not the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people. We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency”, Obama said.
He revealed a series of executive actions to reduce gun violence, “because people are dying.” Here is what his actions are designed to do, according to the White House:
Improving background checks
- The FBI is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient. The envisioned improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun. The FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners and other staff to help process these background checks.
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is making clear that it does not matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you are in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.
- The ATF is finalizing a rule to require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust, corporation, or other legal entity.
- Attorney General Loretta Lynch has sent a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records and criminal dispositions, information on persons disqualified because of a mental illness, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence.
Increased mental health treatment
- The Administration is proposing a new $500 million (465 million euros) investment to increase access to mental health care.
- The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
- The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.
Shaping the future of gun safety technology
- Obama has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.
- The President has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.
- Obama is also calling on manufacturers, retailers, and other private-sector leaders to follow the lead of other businesses that have taken voluntary steps to make it harder for dangerous individuals to get their hands on a gun.
Obama’s announcement triggered immediate reactions from the gun lobby. The National Rifle Association (NRA) issued a statement calling the President’s initiative “an ongoing attempt to distract attention away from his lack of a coherent strategy to keep the American people safe from terrorist attack.”
“The American people do not need more emotional, condescending lectures that are completely devoid of facts”, the NRA said. “President Obama’s proposals would not have prevented any of the horrific events he mentioned. The timing of this announcement, in the eighth and final year of his presidency, demonstrates not only political exploitation but a fundamental lack of seriousness.”
On Twitter, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell accused Obama for politicizing the gun issue.
In wake of
POTUS</a>’ vow to politicize shootings, hard to see today’s announcement as being about more than politics. <a href="https://t.co/Dksk4KRYL2">https://t.co/Dksk4KRYL2</a></p>— Leader McConnell (SenateMajLdr) January 5, 2016
On the presidential campaign trail, the candidates on both sides of the issue reacted sharply, indicating that gun control is becoming a major division between the Republicans and the Democrats.
In an op-ed piece in an Iowa newspaper, Republican candidate Jeb Bush criticized Obama for acting unlawfully and “trampling on the Second Amendment”. Bush promised to repeal the Obama’s executive orders “on Day One” if elected.
A similar pledge came from conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz who dismissed Obama’s proposals as “not worth the paper they are printed on.” At a campaign rally in Iowa, he referred to “unconstitutional executive actions”: “When you live by the pen, you die by the pen and my pen has got an eraser.”
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, vowed in New Hampshire that she will “take on that fight” and continue Obama’s gun control push if she’s elected.
On Twitter, in a tweet signed “-H” to indicate it was written by Clinton, rather than her staff, the former secretary of state thanked Obama “for taking a crucial step forward on gun violence. Our next President has to build on that progress—not rip it away.”
POTUS</a>, for taking a crucial step forward on gun violence. Our next president has to build on that progress—not rip it away. -H</p>— Hillary Clinton (HillaryClinton) January 5, 2016
Many polls have found broad support for expanded background checks — the most recent being a Quinnipiac University poll in December. In that survey, 89% overall support it, 84% in gun-owning households, 87% of Republicans, 86% of independent, 95% of Democrats.
In a December CNN/ORC poll, 48% of Americans said they were in favor of stricter gun control laws, 51% were opposed.