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Obama: Gun-Control Orders Not 'Some Slippery Slope to Mass Confiscation'

President Obama wipes a tear from his cheek as speaks about gun control in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama formally unveiled his gun-control executive actions today in the East Room of the White House, stressing that “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. It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close,” Obama argued in his emotional remarks a week out from his final State of the Union address. “…And instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized, partisan debates.”

“…I am not on the ballot again, I am not looking to score points. I think we can disagree without impugning other people’s motives or without being disagreeable. We don’t need to be talking past one another, but we do have to feel a sense of urgency about it.”

Obama then noted that “there is a ritual about this whole thing that I have to do.”

“I believe in the Second Amendment. It is there, written on the paper, it guarantees a right to bear arms. No matter how many times people try to twist my words around, I taught constitutional law, I know a little bit about this,” he said to applause from a crowd that included gun-control advocate and former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.).

“I get it. But I also believe we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment. I mean, think about it — we all believe in the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech. But we accept that you cannot yell ‘fire’ in a theater. We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people. We cherish our right to privacy, but we accept that you have to go through metal detectors before being allowed to board a plane. It’s not because people like doing that, but we understand that is part of the price of living in a civilized society.”

The president added that “contrary to the claims of what some gun rights’ proponents have suggested, this has not been the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation.”

“Contrary to claims of some presidential candidates, apparently before this meeting, this is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns. You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm,” he said. “The problem is, some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules. A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked. A recent study found that about one in 30 people looking to buy guns on one website had criminal records.”

Obama brought up the Manchin-Toomey background check effort that failed in Congress after the Sandy Hook shootings. He wiped tears when talking about the young children killed at the Connecticut school three years ago.

“Ninety 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,” he said. “How did this become such a partisan issue?… How did we get here? How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people’s guns?”

He acknowledged “we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world, but maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence.”

“Some of you may recall at the same time that Sandy Hook happened, a disturbed person in China took a knife and tried to kill with a knife a bunch of children in China, but most of them survived because he didn’t have access to a powerful weapon,” the president added.

“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now but they can’t hold America hostage. We do not have to accept that carnage is the price of freedom.”

Obama argued that his executive actions, which include expanding the definition of gun dealers to therefore expand required background checks, new spending on mental health programs, new ATF agents and easing access to mental health records during the background check process, are necessary “until we have a Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans.”

“And for those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings as a way of avoiding action on guns, here’s your chance to support these efforts. Put your money where your mouth is,” he said.

“All of us need to demand that Congress be brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies… And we need voters who want safer gun laws, and who are disappointed in leaders who stand in their way to remember come election time.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lauded Obama’s actions and said “it is time for Republicans to stand up to the National Rifle Association and join Democrats in fighting for the safety of the American people.”

“Faced once again with congressional obstruction, the president stepped forward to act within his authority on behalf of the American people,” Reid said.

Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) declared that “the measures announced today threaten our constitutional rights and would not solve the problem.”

“An unwillingness to find common ground and achieve compromise has been a hallmark of this president’s tenure, and this issue is unfortunately no different,” Cornyn said. “Rather than unilaterally impose a gun-control agenda that’s unlawful and strips the constitutional rights of elderly Americans, the president should better enforce current law and work with Congress on legislation reforming our mental health system.”

That’s a reference to the Social Security Administration rulemaking to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.

Cornyn has introduced the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act, which he says “would strengthen the existing background check system without expanding it and improve treatment, preventative screening and crisis response for individuals with mental illness.”

“If the president would roll up his sleeves and work with the bipartisan coalition in Congress who support legislation reforming our mental health system, together we could help prevent many of these tragedies from happening in our communities,” the senator added.