In response to the recent series of mass shootings around the country, President Barack Obama outlined a set of executive actions to address the issue of gun violence in a speech given from the White House Jan. 5.
The president began his address by referencing recent shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo., repeatedly emphasizing the frequency and magnitude of gun violence in America.
“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency,” Obama said. “It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close. And as I’ve said before, somehow we’ve become numb to it and we start thinking that this is normal.”
Acknowledging that gun control had turned into a fierce partisan debate, Obama noted that he recognized the validity of the Second Amendment but also said that it is possible to reduce gun violence within its bounds.
“We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people,” Obama said. “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 executive actions outlined by the president in the second half of his speech featured requirements imposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on licensing and background checks for firearm sellers. They also include the Federal Bureau of Investigation overhauling the background check system with over 230 additional staff and 200 new ATF agents to enforce gun laws as well as establishing an internet investigation center to track illegal online firearms trafficking.
With regard to mental health and gun control, the Obama Administration is also proposing a $500 million investment to increase access to health care and the Social Security Administration. The Department of Health and Human Services is also revamping legal barriers for people prohibited from owning guns for mental health reasons.
As he concluded, the president spoke of the challenges and realities of gun violence and the continued need for action.
“Yes, it will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight,” Obama 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.”
Georgetown Against Gun Violence President Emma Iannini (SFS ’16) expressed optimism about Obama’s executive actions.
“It certainly will make a difference,” Iannini said. “The main constructs of the executive actions are going to make the system not only more efficient but also more comprehensive.”
However, she said that these actions do not address several major loopholes in gun purchase legislation.
“This isn’t going to completely erase the problem that is caused by the gun show sale loophole and the internet loophole — we need Congress to ultimately fix those problems once and for all — but it will make sure that fewer individuals who should not be allowed to have dangerous firearms don’t fall through the cracks,” Iannini said.
GAGV Vice President Sarah Clements (COL ’18) echoed Iannini’s sentiments on Obama’s recent actions.
“As an advocate working on this issue I always want to be celebratory of any steps that we take to move forward,” Clements said. “It was a big win — there is more that our movement wants to get accomplished in the near future, but at the same time, it’s really nice to have something we can grasp on for now.”
Clements said that the executive actions are important in enforcing laws already on the books.
“Knowing that so many incidents of gun violence are preventable just adds to the grief but is also the motivating factor,” Clements said. “It’s all about gun safety, safe storage, and making sure we have the legislation in place that protects our families.”
McCourt School of Public Policy Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Mark Rom expressed a more skeptical outlook on the recent policy action.
“We are a country just awash in guns,” Rom said. “So any actions that we take are unlikely to have a major impact on gun violence both because of the extent of guns out there and also because of the difficulty of actually enforcing things that would make gun safety higher.”
Rom emphasized that any executive action requires federal funding and that Congress is likely to try and block this funding. He attributed this to America’s unique stance on guns.
“It is important to note how unusual the United States is in how polarized we are on this issue,” Rom said. “There is more consensus on background checks and that is important, but it is also striking that, given this consensus of the public on background checks, Congress has been completely unwilling to take any actions to make those background checks more thorough and more uniform.”
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