Obama Unveils $500M Gun Violence Package

Washington (AP) -
U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden walk from the White House following the press conference on Gun Control. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden walk from the White House following the press conference on Gun Control. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

NRA begins pushback

Braced for a fight, President Barack Obama on Wednesday unveiled the most sweeping proposals for curbing gun violence in two decades, pressing a reluctant Congress to pass universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

A month after that horrific massacre, Obama also used his presidential powers to enact 23 measures that don’t require the backing of lawmakers. The president’s executive actions include ordering federal agencies to make more data available for background checks, appointing a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and directing the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence.

But the president, speaking at White House ceremony, focused his attention on the divided Congress, saying only lawmakers could enact the most effective measures for preventing more mass shootings.

“To make a real and lasting difference, Congress must act,” Obama said. “And Congress must act soon.”

The president vowed to use “whatever weight this office holds” to press lawmakers into action on his $500 million plan. He is also calling for improvements in school safety, including putting 1,000 police officers in schools and bolstering mental health care by training more health professionals to deal with young people who may be at risk.

The National Rifle Association promptly took issue with Obama’s proposals, and even supportive lawmakers said the president’s gun control measures face long odds in Congress.

“Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation,” the NRA said in a statement. “Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected, and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”

House Speaker John Boehner’s office was non-committal about the president’s package, but signaled no urgency to act on the legislative proposals. “House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed Obama’s measures as “an executive power grab.”

“He paid lip service to our fundamental constitutional rights,” Priebus said of the president, “but took actions that disregard the Second Amendment and the legislative process.”

Acknowledging the tough fight ahead, Obama said there will be pundits, politicians and special interest groups that will seek to “gin up fear” that the White House wants to take away the right to own a gun.

“Behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any commonsense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever,” he said. “The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different, that this time we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.”

The president was flanked by children who wrote him letters about gun violence in the weeks following the Newtown shooting. Families of those killed in the massacre, as well as survivors of the shooting, were also in the audience, along with law enforcement officers and congressional lawmakers.

“This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe,” Obama said. “This is how we will be judged.”

The president’s long list of executive orders also include:

  • Ordering tougher penalties for people who tell lies on background checks, and requiring federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
  • Ending limits that make it more difficult for the government to research gun violence, such as gathering data on guns that fall into criminal hands.
  • Requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
  • Giving schools flexibility to use federal grant money to improve school safety, such as by hiring school resource officers.
  • Giving communities grants to institute programs to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.