US President Barack Obama wept openly on Tuesday (Jan 5) as he urged America to wake up to the need to tackle the gun violence that claims tens of thousands of lives in the country each year.
Flanked by survivors of the gun violence that kills around 30,000 Americans every year, and relatives of those killed, Mr Obama became emotional as he remembered 20 elementary schoolchildren shot dead three years ago in Newtown, Connecticut.
He said: "First graders in Newtown. First graders. Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day."
It proved to be the emotional moment of a speech that was meant to defend the latest attempt by the President to try and rein in the gun violence problem in the US.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejVnBYGS6S4
The most recent effort is significantly more modest that the sweeping changes he tried to introduce after the Newtown shootings. He is seeking to introduce a modest expansion of background checks by clarifying existing laws and channel more resources to law enforcement and mental illness.
While the speech sought to highlight the urgency of the situation to the American public, it also made clear how difficult any change would be to achieve.
"We do have to feel a fierce sense of urgency about it. In Dr (Martin Luther) King's words, we need to feel the fierce urgency of now. Because people are dying and the constant excesses for action no longer do, no longer suffice.
"That's why we're here today, not to debate the last mass shooting but to prevent the next one," he said, while acknowledging that the change that was needed will not happen during his presidency.
In many ways, Mr Obama hit a lot of the same notes he normally hits when reacting a mass shooting and he even at one point recognised how routine it had all become.
He highlighted again the fact that while the US does not have a lion's share of dangerous and violent people, the 30,000 annual gun deaths in the country were unmatched anywhere in the developed world.
Some notable mass shootings since United States President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
APRIL 3, 2009: 13 killed
Immigrant Jiverly Wong opens fire at an immigration service centre in Binghamton, New York.
NOV 5, 2009: 13 killed
Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan goes on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood military base in Texas.
JAN 8, 2011: 6 killed
Jared Lee Loughner shoots into the crowd at a meet-and-greet session in Tucson, Arizona, held by Democrat Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
JULY 20, 2012: 12 killed
James Holmes enters a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, during a Batman film and shoots at moviegoers.
DEC 14, 2012: 26 killed
Adam Lanza shoots and kills mostly first-grade children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
SEPT 16, 2013: 12 killed
Navy contractor Aaron Alexis engages police in a gunfight at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC.
APRIL 2, 2014: 3 killed
Army Specialist Ivan Lopez carries out another mass shooting at the Fort Hood base.
JUNE 17, 2015: 9 killed
White supremacist Dylann Storm Roof attacks black parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.
JULY 16, 2015: 5 killed
Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez fires on two military recruiting centres in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
OCT 1, 2015: 9 killed
Student Christopher Harper-Mercer guns people down at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon.
NOV 27, 2015: 3 killed
Robert Lewis Dear enters an abortion clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and starts shooting.
DEC 2, 2015: 14 killed
Married duo Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik attack an office party in San Bernardino, California.
"We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only country on earth that sees this kind of violence erupt in this frequency. It doesn't happen in other advanced countries. It's not even close,'' he said.
"As I've said before, we've become numb to it and we start thinking: This is normal. And instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become our most polarised partisan debate."
He also sought to reassure gun rights supporters that he had not sought to subvert the right to bear arms enshrined in the Constitution.
He said: “I believe in the second amendment. It guarantees the right to bear arms. No matter how many times people try and twist my words. I taught constitutional law, I know a little about this.”
But the President also introduced a new argument in favour of some limitations on guns, outlining the other compromises to the Constitution Americans accepted as normal.
“We all believe in the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech but we accept you can't yell fire in a theatre. We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people. We cherish our right to privacy but we accept you have to go through metal detectors before we get on a plane,” he said.
He ended his speech with a call to Americans to put political pressure on US lawmakers to support gun control.
“This is not that complicated. The reason Congress blocks laws is because they want to win elections. If you make it hard for them to win elections if they block those laws, they'll change, I promise you.”
Mr Obama added: “Gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now but they can't hold America hostage.”
Republicans hit back nearly instantly after the speech ended, with the Republican National Committee sending out a press release accusing Mr Obama of playing politics.
“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.
"The truth is, this executive overreach is all about burnishing the President’s legacy and boosting Democrat enthusiasm in a presidential election year,” it said.
Republican White House hopefuls pledged to immediately repeal the orders if they are elected in November.
White House candidate Jeb Bush warned that Mr Obama was “trying to do an end-run” on the US Constitution despite an increased terrorism threat.
“Rather than taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens as Obama and (Hillary) Clinton would like to do, we should focus on keeping guns out of the hands of the terrorists who want to kill innocent Americans,” Mr Bush wrote in Iowa’s Gazette newspaper.
“When I am president of the United States, I will repeal Obama’s anti-gun executive orders on day one of my administration.”
Republican hopeful Marco Rubio pledged the same, while long-shot candidate Mike Huckabee offered a stinging rebuke to Mr Obama, linking the gun control fight to another hot-button battle in America’s culture wars: Abortion.
“You say if we can save one life we should,” Mr Huckabee tweeted to the President. “Well, apply 5th & 14th amendments to the unborn & save 4,000 lives a day.”
Former business executive Carly Fiorina slammed Mr Obama’s move as “lawless unconstitutional overreach”, while retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson warned the President was merely “advancing his political agenda”.
Mr Obama, in his White House address, said there was no “slippery slope” towards eroding gun owners’ rights and confiscating guns. But critics including the top Republican in Congress accused him of intimidation that undermines American’s right to own gun.
“No matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a tweet as Mr Obama unveiled his executive actions.
Several Democrats spoke out in support of Mr Obama’s plans, including the three candidates running for their party’s presidential nomination. Front runner Clinton took to Twitter to thank Mr Obama “for taking a crucial step forward on gun violence. Our next president has to build on that progress – not rip it away.”
Additional information from AFP