President Obama may have intended to begin his second term picking a fight with Republicans over the debt ceiling, but with the stroke of a pen and a paternalistic chiding of Congress today he rang the bell on a fight over gun rights.
Backdropped by four kids ages 8 to 11 who had written letters to the president asking him to do something about guns, Obama rounded out his speech on Vice President Joe Biden’s gun-control proposals by putting 23 executives actions into effect ranging from tweaking or clarifying law enforcement procedures (such as one memorandum he issued on firearms tracing) to directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.
He also ditched his longtime preferred nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Andrew Traver, by offering up a less controversial pick in the guy who’s been acting director since August 2011, U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones.
But adding inflection to his script that could have come straight from an Aaron Sorkin production, Obama challenged the GOP to win the war of public opinion and Capitol duels over gun rights.
“In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun — 900 in the past month,” Obama said in an auditorium that included Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as victims and families of mass shootings from Sandy Hook to Virginia Tech. “And every day we wait the number will keep growing.”
“This will be difficult. There will be pundits and politicians and special-interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty, not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever,” he said.
“I will put everything I’ve got into this — and so will Joe — but I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it. And by the way, that doesn’t just mean from certain parts of the country. We’re going to need voices in those areas and those congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong to speak up and to say this is important. It can’t just be the usual suspects.”
Yet one of the “usual suspects” who, after Sandy Hook, called for greater dialogue on guns had early criticism for the proposals.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a National Rifle Association member, said he will “weigh each recommendation carefully,” but called out the administration for excluding gun owners as it pushes forward.
“I am disappointed that the president did not recommend the creation of the national commission on mass violence that I have proposed,” Manchin said. “A national commission can build the consensus we need for real action backed not only by gun-control advocates, mental health experts and entertainment industry executives but also by law-abiding gun owners who fully understand the history and heritage of firearms in America.”
Titled “Now is the Time,” the president’s gun-control plan consists of:
- Requiring background checks for all gun sales, including between private sellers and gun shows. “A national survey of inmates found that only 12 percent of those who used a gun in a crime acquired it from a retail store or pawn shop, where a background check should have been run,” the plan states. The coordinating executive action calls on private sellers to start selling their guns through licensed dealers so a background check can be performed.
- Strengthening background checks and ensuring states are sharing all applicable information. The coordinating executive actions clarify that ObamaCare doesn’t place barriers to sharing mental-health information and direct Holder to review whether more people should be deemed “dangerous” and prevented from acquiring a gun under the current background system.
- Pressure Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban and limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, as well as approve a $4 billion administration request for more cops. Obama also wants Congress to make the possession of armor-piercing bullets by anyone other than the military and law enforcement illegal.
- Implement new training and tracing for law enforcement. Obama also wants departments to run a background check on theft victims before a stolen handgun is returned.
- Conduct research on “how and when firearms are used in violent death” and on the links between violence and violent images in videos games or other media.
- “Protect the rights of health care providers to talk to their patients about gun safety.”
- Launch a national ad campaign about responsible gun safety and encourage the development of new gun-safety technology.
- “Put up to 1,000 new school resource officers and school counselors on the job” and help schools implement emergency plans.
- “Help 8,000 schools create safer and more nurturing school climates” to reduce bullying, etc. “The Administration is proposing a new, $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train their teachers and other school staff to implement these strategies. The Administration will also develop a school climate survey, providing reliable data to help schools implement policies to improve climate,” the plan states.
- “Making access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun,” in the words of Obama, by launching a new initiative, Project AWARE, to target people suspected of mental illness, particularly in ages 16 through 25.
- “Twenty-two percent of 14 to 17 year olds have witnessed a shooting in their lifetime. … To help schools break the cycle of violence, Congress should provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs, and other school-based violence prevention strategies.”
Reaction from Hill Republicans was swift.
“Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook. President Obama is targeting the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “…I will oppose the president’s attempts to undermine Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.”