By Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – President Barack Obama, citing the thousands of people who are killed each year by guns, gave a tearful address before the nation on Tuesday, pleading for Congress to pass “common sense” gun control legislation and announced his use of executive orders to make progress.
“Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns — 30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children. Many have had to learn to live with a disability, or learned to live without the love of their life,” Obama said in the East Room, surrounded by hundreds of victims of gun violence or supporters of gun control.
“A number of those people are here today. They can tell you some stories. In this room right here, there are a lot of stories. There’s a lot of heartache. There’s a lot of resilience, there’s a lot of strength, but there’s also a lot of pain. And this is just a small sample.”
In a nutshell, the following are some of the president’s proposals:
- Mandatory background checks by gun sellers or they will suffer criminal penalties.
- The funding 200 new Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws.
- An allocation of $500 million for the increase of mental health treatment and mandatory reporting to the background check system.
- Shape the future of gun safety technology through research by the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.
Obama’s stance drew immediate applause from civil rights leaders who daily endure the pain of community violence.
“The year is less than a week old, and already more than 120 people have been killed by guns. Gun violence has outpaced automobile accidents as a leading cause of death,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial.
“Gun violence is undeniably one of the worst public health crises in American history, yet our elected leaders have been woefully unresponsive. It’s hard to imagine such inaction in the face of any other plague responsible for such death and devastation,” he said.
Dr. Stephanie Myers, national co-chair for Black Women for Positive Change, called Obama’s stance courageous.
“President Obama’s commitment to stand up to gun lobbies and gun show owners is historic and brave. Expanded background checks of gun purchasers at gun shows, over the Internet and wherever guns are sold should help to block the ability of gangs, criminals and other offenders to obtain dangerous weapons. Keeping guns out of the wrong hands should result in reduced street violence,” said Myers, whose organization has long championed the cause of non-violence.
The National Action Network’s Rev. Al Sharpton also said the proposals could reduce street crime. “Our community is disproportionately ravaged by gun violence and the President’s executive action today is an important step towards taking these deadly weapons off our streets. From tragic mass killings in Charleston, Sandy Hook and San Bernardino to the everyday carnage in inner cities, we clearly cannot allow this violent trend to continue,” Sharpton said in a statement.
The 40-minute speech outlined the specifics of his proposed gun measures, including a refutation by Republicans claiming his executive orders would violate the Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“No matter how many times people try to twist my words around – I taught constitutional law, I know a little about this,” he said to applause. “But I also believe that we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment.”
He continued, “We all believe in the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech, but we accept that you can’t 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 that’s part of the price of living in a civilized society.”
The President paused and wiped away tears as he recalled the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy of Dec. 21, 2014. That’s the day that 20-year-old mentally ill Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 first grade children and six adults, including his mother.
President had been introduced by Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said as he wiped away tears.
The weight of the issue and the public messaging that went out before and after the speech indicates that gun control may be another legacy for Obama. So far, it has mainly been health care, which has stood against every court test so far. Republicans have vowed to challenge Obama’s executive orders and GOP presidential candidates say they will repeal them if they win the White House.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin immediately tweeted his opposition: “No matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus chimed in with a stinging statement, “The recent tragedies that have gripped our country are heartbreaking, but none of the unilateral restrictions President Obama is proposing would have prevented them, making his proposal all the more insulting and political.”
On the other hand, Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton applauded the president, tweeting, “Thank you, @POTUS, for taking a crucial step forward on gun violence. Our next president has to build on that progress—not rip it away.”
Despite opposition from a majority Republican House and Senate, Obama will likely reinforce his points on gun laws during his final state of the Union message Jan. 12, with hopes that Congress will at least visit the measures.
“Yes, it will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight,” he said. “It won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my presidency. But a lot of things don’t happen overnight. A woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight. The liberation of African-Americans didn’t happen overnight. LGBT rights – that was decades’ worth of work. So just because it’s hard, that’s no excuse not to try.”