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Obama begins final year with plea for gun control

By Hazel Trice Edney
On January 18, 2016

President Obama chats with the attendees following a Jan. 4 meeting in the Oval Office
on the executive actions he can take to curb gun violence.

( – President Barack Obama, citing the thousands of people who are killed each year by guns, gave a tearful address before the nation last week pleading for Congress to pass “common sense” gun control legislation and announcing 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 (ATF) 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 added.

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 (South Carolina), Sandy Hook (Connecticut) and San Bernardino (California) 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.”

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.

The 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. "And by the way, it happens in Chicago every day."

The weight of the issue and the public messaging issued from the White House 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.”

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