President Obama unveiled his new plan to combat gun violence on Tuesday, January 5th in the East Room of the White House. He was surrounded by the relatives of those who lost their lives in the many mass shooting that have occurred in the US over the last number of years. In attendance was former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona who was shot in the head in Tucson during a constituent meeting in 2011. Mark Barden who lost his seven-year old son Daniel in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 introduced the president, before he left the podium he said that every gun related death is preventable.
“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.”, President Obama
During his speech Obama referred to the time he spent with Mr Barden during his visit to Sandy Hook just two days after the shooting. He said that this event changed him and that he had hoped it would change the country. Although the President is known for being an impressive speaker he is often accused of appearing removed or clinical but last Tuesday’s speech was to be an exception to that rule. He delivered a very emotional, heartfelt speech that left the audience under no illusions about his passion and sense of regret on this subject. The Obama administration has been blocked by congress at every turn on matters of gun control and therefore very little progress has been made in spite of the fact that these shootings have become more and more frequent. In fact no other developed country sees this type of violent crime happen over and over again.
“It wasn’t the first time I had to talk to the nation in response to a mass shooting, nor would it be the last: Fort Hood, Binghamton, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, the Navy Yard, Santa Barbara, Charleston, San Bernardino. Too many“, President Obama
Many believed that the President would make no progress on this issue, even though he vowed to again and again after each tragedy. After all Obama has only one year left in office. That is not nearly enough time to get the kinds of results needed to effect any real change on this matter. Some were so confident that Obama’s actions would have so little impact that the Wall Street stock prices for gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson rose this week, showing that there was a real belief that new policies wouldn’t hurt sales in any way. Nevertheless Obama delivered his speech and highlighted the measures that would be taken to curb gun violence.
He also made sure to remind the American people that he was not standing for election again, that he was not looking for their votes. He simply believed that this was the right thing to do. He urged voters to force the hand of those in congress, those who are so adamant that no change is needed in this area. They object to Obama’s plans saying that it is unconstitutional and goes against the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. Obama poked fun at those who suggest that his desire is to take away all their guns, saying that he taught constitutional law for many years so he knows a little bit about it. He insisted that there are ways to reduce gun violence and still uphold the Second Amendment.
“All of us should be able to work together to find a balance that declares the rest of our rights are also important. Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well.”, President Obama
So just what will Obama’s executive action do to change gun laws? The proposal’s main focus is on background checks and the requirements needed to obtain a gun. This is due to the fact that the majority of gun related crimes are the result of those who should not have been able to gain access to a weapon. Over the past decade more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence in America. Therefore background checks will have to be much more extensive. This will be done using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and proper technology will be used to carry them out. More people will also need to be employed so that this can be done in an efficient manner.
“Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that… so why bother trying. I reject that thinking. We know we can’t stop every act of violence… But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence”, President Obama
Better education and enforcement efforts of existing laws will come into effect as well. This would mean that any business engaged in the sale of guns will have to acquire a federal license in order to sell them. This requirement applies to gun stores, sellers of guns at gun shows and those who sell guns over the Internet. If people fail to do this or to carry out the proper background checks before selling these weapons than criminal penalties of up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $250,000 will be incurred.
“So the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage. We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom”, President Obama
State authorities will also have to work together to prevent those engaging in domestic violence or suffering from mental health problems from gaining access to fire arms. The Department of Defence, Justice and Homeland Security will also receive funding in order to carry out the proper research into gun safety technology. These and several other steps are all included in Obama’s plans to crack down on gun violence.
“We need to develop new technologies that make guns safer… If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun”, President Obama
The President finished his speech with tears in his eyes as he recalled the events of that day in Sandy Hook Elementary School with sorrow and regret. He took a moment to compose himself before telling the audience that every time he thinks of those children who lost their lives it makes him angry. He also reminded the crowd that although there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of minds to change it doesn’t mean that we should give up hope. He appeared defiant throughout his speech and seemed to hope that others would be too in order to defy congress on this issue.
“Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad.“, President Obama
Although it was a moving speech and these steps do look promising they have a long way to go before they are written into law. An executive action is in effect a list of suggestions that must be carried on by Obama’s predecessor in order for them to have any real impact. Many of the Republican candidates such as Donald Trump have vowed to abolish these changes immediately if they were to be voted into office. Republican candidate Ted Cruz even went so far as to put up a web page with the caption “Obama Wants Your Guns” next to his fundraising appeal. Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton on the other hand thanked the President for his efforts and promised to carry on his work if she is elected. This plan however does not have the support of congress and therefore it is most likely that it will face legal challenges in court.
“Yes, it will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight…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.”, President Obama
The President took a further step on Thursday when he faced his critics in a rare town hall meeting in Virginia. The meeting was moderated by CNN’S Anderson Cooper. Here Obama heard concerns from the audience and answered their questions. Once again he reiterated that there is no conspiracy to try to take everyone’s guns away from them. He criticised to NRA for perpetuating this myth and for refusing to meet with him on the issue.
As a non-American it is very difficult to understand where this desire to bear arms comes from. It seems to be embedded in the culture just like there are things embedded in mine. I struggle to see why people fight so hard to cling onto something that is so dangerous and has caused so much pain. I have watched on in horror as the details of each shooting are reported on in the news over and over, trying to shield myself from such tragedy while also attempting not to become numb to people’s sorrow. I applaud the President for his efforts and I hope that they won’t fall on deaf ears. It remains to be seen if his actions, along with his emotional appeal will have any real impact on gun violence in the future. I truly hope that it will. I hope that no more lives will be lost in these senseless mass shootings.