Obama seeks to bypass Congress on gun control

In this Dec 17, 2015 file photo, US President Barack Obama delivers remarks after a national security team meeting in Virginia, US.
In this Dec 17, 2015 file photo, US President Barack Obama delivers remarks after a national security team meeting in Virginia, US.PHOTO: AFP

President to meet Attorney-General on possible unilateral action to tighten gun sales

WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama will meet US Attorney-General Loretta E. Lynch today to discuss what he can do to curb gun violence, sidestepping an entrenched Congress.

In his first weekly radio address of the new year on Friday, Mr Obama said he would talk to Ms Lynch of the measures he can take on his own to halt what he called "our epidemic of gun violence".

Recalling the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people - 20 of them children - and left many grimly hopeful it would lead to an overhaul of the nation's gun laws, the President accused lawmakers of bowing to the gun lobby.

"All across America, survivors of gun violence and those who lost a child, a parent, a spouse to gun violence are forced to mark such awful anniversaries every single day," Mr Obama said. "And yet Congress still hasn't done anything to prevent what happened to them from happening to other families."

The speech was an explicit return to a theme that Mr Obama has played down in the wake of terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on Nov 13, and 14 more on Dec 2 in San Bernardino, California, both of which were inspired by Islamic extremism.

While Mr Obama's initial response to the San Bernardino attacks emphasised its commonality with other mass shootings and the need for gun restrictions, the administration soon realised that this message was failing to reassure Americans that he was taking seriously the threat from Islamic extremism and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group.

So through much of last month, Mr Obama engaged in public events to convince Americans that his administration was doing everything it could to battle terrorism. For some Americans, being vigilant against Islamic extremism involves having more guns, not fewer, and sales of guns surged in the wake of the San Bernardino attack.

Now, a month after the San Bernardino attack, he has decided that he can return to his focus on gun measures. "Because I get too many letters from parents, and teachers, and kids, to sit around and do nothing," Mr Obama said in his speech.

A bipartisan effort in 2013 to bolster gun control measures after the Newtown shooting was halted in the Senate, failing to garner the 60 votes needed to expand background checks and to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The administration has been looking at how Mr Obama can tighten gun sales unilaterally, focusing in particular on who could be considered a high-volume dealer for an executive action that could expand background checks.

But White House officials have said there are many political and legal challenges in doing so, potentially opening up Mr Obama to renewed criticism that he is abusing his authority.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'Obama seeks to bypass Congress on gun control'. Print Edition | Subscribe