12:39 pm Jan. 16, 2013
President Obama announced this morning that he will press Congress to pass an expansive agenda of "common sense" new gun laws, including a new ban on assault weapons and extended magazines, a new system of universal background checks, and tougher penalties for gun trafficking. The president also announced 23 new executive orders that would promote more comprehensive background checks and gun research.
"I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality," Obama said at a noon press conference at the White House. "If there's even one thing that we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we have an obligation to try. And I'm going to do my part."
Obama was joined on stage by Vice President Joe Biden, who he had tasked with assembling a list of recommendations, and by four children who had written letters to the White House in the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last month.
"This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we should be judged. And their voices should compel us to change," he said, after reading some excerpts from the letters.
Obama said 900 Americans had been killed in the month since the shooting in Newtown, and urged Congress to crack down on straw buyers, close loopholes that allow for gun purchases without a background check, and confirm the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Todd Jones.
The president responded strongly to the National Rifle Association, which released an ad yesterday calling him an "elitist hypocrite" for not supporting its call for armed guards in public schools, even those his children enjoy Secret Service protection.
Obama included nods to some of the N.R.A.'s recommendations (including some armed security at schools, greater mental health checks and research into violent video games) but also suggested that organizations which accuse the new regulations of tyrannical infringements of liberty were intended to "gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves."
The president said only voters could ultimately change the system, and called on them to question unsupportive representatives as to whether they're "doing whatever it takes to get an A-grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents peace of mind when they drop their child off at first grade."
He cited a poll showing that 70 percent of the N.R.A.'s own members support background checks for gun buyers. "So there's no reason we can't do this," he said.
And he quoted Ronald Reagan, who in 1994 called on Congress to ban the future manufacture of certain assault weapons.
"It can't just be the usual suspects," Obama said, adding, "This will not happen unless the American people demand it."
The White House faces a steep fight in Congress, where House Republicans have signaled their disinterest in passing new restrictions, and Obama quoted from a letter from one of the children on stage, named Julia.
"I know that laws have to be passed by Congress, but I beg you to try very hard," he read, before turning to address her. "Julia, I will try very hard."
Here's that N.R.A. ad, with a brief, unsurprising appearance of Michael Bloomberg's image near the end.