Emotional Obama unveils measures to curb gun violence

US President Barack Obama sheds tears while delivering a statement on the measures his administration is taking to reduce gun violence on Tuesday, as Vice-President Joe Biden looks on.
US President Barack Obama sheds tears while delivering a statement on the measures his administration is taking to reduce gun violence on Tuesday, as Vice-President Joe Biden looks on. PHOTO: REUTERS

Gun lobby, Republicans quick to blast his moves while others note his limited powers

US President Barack Obama shed tears as he unveiled a slew of measures to curb gun violence, but detractors were quick to criticise his motives, while others highlighted his limited powers without support from a Republican-led Congress.

Central to Mr Obama's executive actions are measures to expand background checks on gun buyers by clarifying laws on licensing, and channelling more resources to law enforcement. He also wants to boost access to treatment for mental illness to prevent gun violence.

An emotional Mr Obama said: "We do have to feel a sense of urgency about it... because people are dying. And the constant excuses for inaction no longer suffice."

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms, but Mr Obama pointed out that there should be ways to "reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment".

NO MORE DELAYS

We do have to feel a sense of urgency about it... because people are dying. And the constant excuses for inaction no longer suffice.

US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, on taking executive action to push through his plans on gun control

It is legal in the United States for someone to sell guns from a private collection on an occasional basis, said Duke University professor of public policy, economics and sociology Philip Cook, who is also the co-author of Gun Violence: The Real Costs.

While Mr Obama stated in his speech on Tuesday that anybody "in the business" of selling firearms must get a licence and conduct background checks on buyers, Professor Cook said the President "did not offer a precise definition".

Outdated regulations have allowed individuals to avoid the checks and acquire firearms through trusts, corporations and other legal entities.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is "finalising a rule to require background checks" in such situations, said the White House.

And the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be making its background check system more effective and efficient.

Flanked by relatives of victims of mass shootings, Mr Obama wiped away tears during his speech as he recalled the Newtown massacre in 2013 that killed 20 children.

"First graders... Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad," he said, calling on Americans to "demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby's lies".

Almost immediately, the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful lobbying group, and the Republicans blasted Mr Obama's move.

The executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, Mr Chris Cox, said in a statement: "The fact is that President Obama's proposals would not have prevented any of the horrific events he mentioned."

Mr Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called Mr Obama's executive actions a "dangerous power grab" meant to burnish the President's legacy and boost Democrat enthusiasm in a presidential election year.

In a video released the same day, former Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush said: "I will fight as hard as I can against any effort by this President or by any liberal that wants to take away people's rights that are embedded in the Bill of Rights, embedded in our Constitution."

But not to be drowned out were the voices of support for Mr Obama.

Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, who chairs the non-profit group Everytown for Gun Safety, called Mr Obama's move "an important victory for public safety and a setback for criminals and gun traffickers".

Mrs Hillary Clinton, the front runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, took the opportunity to applaud Mr Obama and push her own stance, tweeting: "Our next president has to build on that progress - not rip it away."

Prof Cook said the steps taken are incremental. "At best it will have a small effect on gun crime... But without the cooperation of the US Congress, it is hard to imagine what else the President can do at this point."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'Emotional Obama unveils measures to curb gun violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe