US president Barack Obama announced an executive action on gun control during an emotional speech on Tuesday (Jan. 5), a month after the Republican-held Congress blocked a Democratic attempt to pass tighter restrictions.
“Every single year more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns,” Obama said. “We are not inherently more prone to violence, but we’re the only advanced country to see mass violence this frequently.”
Surrounded by victims of mass shootings and their relatives, and flanked by vice president Joe Biden, Obama quoted Martin Luther King: “We need to feel the fierce urgency of now. Because people are dying.” Tears streamed down the president’s cheeks when he spoke of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut that left 26 people, including 20 young children, dead.
“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage, but they can’t hold America hostage,” the president said.
The White House released details of the plan on Monday, after Obama met with attorney general Loretta Lynch. The executive action will require all gun dealers to be licensed, including those who sell online and at gun shows, thus clamping down on dealers who pass themselves off as “hobbyists” or “collectors.” It closes a loophole that allows people to acquire guns through “gun trusts” without background checks, and increases the responsibility of gun dealers for reporting missing guns. It includes a plan to hire more staff to process background checks and enforce gun laws, and allocates $500 million to mental-health care.
“Everybody should abide by the same rules,” Obama said in his address. He outlined the steps of his plan, which also included improving gun safety technology. “If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, they shouldn’t be able to pull a trigger on a gun,” he said.
Republicans have already threatened to throw obstacles at Obama’s executive order. A powerful House Republican, John Culberson, sent a letter to Lynch threatening to cut funding to the Department of Justice if it enforces the order. Republican presidential candidates, meanwhile, vowed to undo Obama’s plans if they won the White House in next year’s race. “I will veto. I will unsign that so fast,” said frontrunner Donald Trump.
Executive action is a limited tool of power. It allows the president to, for instance, give more resources to a government agency, but he would not have been able to push through a comprehensive gun control law acting solely by himself. Eric Posner, a law professor and expert on executive action told Bloomberg that Obama “has to interpret [the Second Amendment and Supreme Court rulings] in a reasonable way…He can’t just make up any interpretation.”