Broadcast networks broke into their schedules this morning to focus on President Barack Obama as he unveiled a series of executive actions intended to help curtail gun violence. “The constant excuses for inaction no longer do. No longer suffice. That’s why we’re here today,” Obama told the White House’s East Room, which was full of cameras, gun safety advocates and survivors of gun violence. “In Dr. King’s words, the fierce urgency of now, because people are dying.”
“Until we have a Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives, actions that protect our rights and our kids,” he said.
“Congress actually voted to make it harder for public health experts to conduct research into gun violence, Made it harder to collect data and facts and develop strategies to reduce gun violence. Even after San Bernardino, they refused to make it harder for terror suspects, who can’t get on a plane, to buy semiautomatic weapons. That’s not right.”
Obama also acknowledged comprehensive gun safety reform will not happen in his presidency. And there was much TV news talking-head chatter after the event ended about how Obama wept as he recounted the slaughter of 6- and 7 year-olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “Every time I think about those kids, it makes me mad,” Obama said, wiping away tears. He had been introduced by Mark Barden, a father seven year-old Daniel killed along with 19 other first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook on Dec. 14, 2012.
Lucy McBath and Richard Martinez were among those standing behind Obama as he spoke. McBath, whose son Jordan was killed by gun violence, was in The Armor of Light, a documentary from Abigal Disney (granddaughter of Roy O. Disney). Martinez’s son Christopher was killed in the Isla Vista, CA mass shooting by the son of Peter Rodger, an assistant director on The Hunger Games. Former Congresswoman and gun control advocate Gabby Giffords also was in attendance and, like Obama, was greeted with a standing ovation by the White House audience.
Also in attendance today was Amy Schumer; two people were killed and nine were injured in July at a Lafayette, LA multiplex after a gunman opened fire during a screening of her comedy Trainwreck. Families from some of the worst mass shootings in America — Columbine, Aurora, Va Tech, Newtown, and Tucson — were also present.
Obama said this morning that despite his executive actions bypassing Congress to clarify background checks requirements, increase spending for mental health treatment and for gun safety research, lawmakers must also address the pressing issue.
“The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does. Because once Congress gets on board with common-sense gun safety measures, we can reduce gun violence a whole lot more.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis) blasted Obama’s remarks and his plan as the ceremony ended.
Obama dismissed critics’ claims his actions to strengthen background checks for purchasing guns would not make it harder for criminals to obtain firearms.
“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, or the one before that, so why bother trying,” Obama said. “I reject that thinking. We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence.”
“I believe in the Second Amendment. It is there, written on the paper, it guarantees a right to bear arms,” Obama said. “No matter how many times people try to my words around, I taught constitutional law, I know a little bit about this. I get it. But I also believe we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment. I mean, think about it — we all believe in the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech. But we accept that you cannot yell “fire,” in a theater.”
Anita Busch contributed to this report.