Washington — President Barack Obama unveiled an ambitious, broad-ranging package of gun proposals Wednesday, touching off what’s expected to be a massive battle with gun-rights advocates the president predicted “would gin up fear” of a “tyrannical all-out assault on liberty.”
Obama singled out the parents of 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, one of the children slain in Newtown, saying, “We must act now — for Grace.”
Backed by a panel of American school children concerned about safety since the killings in Newtown, Obama laid out a program of 23 proposals to reduce what he called the “epidemic” of gun violence afflicting the nation.
“If Americans worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people,” the president said, “we’d have fewer attrocities like Newtown.”
In the month since the horrific massacre of 20 school children and six staff members at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, “more than 900 of our fellow Americans have died at the end of a gun,” Obama said.
He and Vice President Joe Biden asserted the nation’s “moral obligation” to take steps to reduce the killing, and signed into effect some of those first steps shortly after noon.
The president’s package includes 23 proposals Obama implemented through his executive power, including funding more gun-violence research and tightening the nation’s system of background checks. He also nominated a new director of the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that has been without a permanent leader for six years.
The new executive orders require states to improve their reporting of criminal and mental health records that are used by the FBI on background checks on gun buyers. The administration says it wants to spend $50 million on incentives to states that improve their reporting.
The administration will also spend $150 million so schools can hire 1,000 counselors, social workers and psychologists, and to pay for research on gun violence and violence in video games and movies. The money will also be used to require federal law enforcement authorities to trace guns used in crimes.
Although Congress has squelched funding for gun-violence research in the past, Obama’s new directive authorizes the Centers for Disease Control to study the causes and solutions to the gun-violence problem. “We don’t benefit from ignorance,” Obama said.
Obama also announced several proposals that will need Congress’ approval.
Those include the reinstatement the bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips that expired in 2004 and to close background check loopholes. Obama also asked Congress to ban all types of armor-piercing bullets and to increase penalties for gun trafficking.
We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals,” Obama said. “And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this.”
The proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines — which would be limited to 10 rounds — will be tougher than the ones that expired in 2004. But they would only apply to the future manufacture of guns and magazines, not those that are in stores today.
“President Obama outlined an expansive plan, and that is exactly as it should be, as there is no single solution to stopping gun violence,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District. She and fellow Democrat Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who represents the 5th District that includes Newtown, were also at the White House event.
Obama has said some of those proposals, including the reinstatement an assault weapons ban, may not have enough votes in Congress to pass.
Besides McDonnell’s, the parents of Newtown victim Noah Pozner, 6, attended Wednesday’s event along with the family of Vicky Soto, the Newtown teacher who lost her life trying to protect her students. Newtwon First Selectman Patricia Llodra also attended the ceremony.
Behind Obama on the stage were four children who wrote him letters after the Newtown shooting expressing concern about gun violence and school safety. He quoted from their letters to him.
The package of White House proposals was developed after several weeks of meetings between Biden and Cabinet members with 229 diverse groups ranging from hunters to Hollywood executives. National education and mental health organizations, shooting victims, gun retailers like Wal-Mart and Democrats on a House gun control task force, including Esty, were all invited to meet with a members of a Cabinet-level panel headed by Biden to discuss proposals. Even National Rifle Association President David Keene was asked to join the discussion. But the NRA rejected the White House’s efforts, calling it an attack on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
On Tuesday, the NRA released a video that suggested President Obama is an “elitist” and a “hypocrite” because his daughters have Secret Service protection while he opposes posting armed guards at the nation’s schools.
The video starts by asking, “Are the president’s kids more important than yours?”
In a statement issued after Obama’s actions, the NRA said “Keeping our children and society safe remains our top priority.”
“The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law,” the statement continued. “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., whose husband was killed and son badly wounded by a shooter on the Long Island Railroad, said she plans to soon introduce an assault weapons ban in the House. Unlike McCarthy’s previous efforts to reestablish an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, the lawmaker said her new bill would expand the definition of an assault weapon so it includes all guns that hold a certain number of ammunition rounds.
But McCarthy said she still has to “test the water” for House support of her bill.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., plans to sponsor an assault weapons ban in the Senate with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.