In an unmistakable echo of the uphill struggle he faced to pass game-changing healthcare reform policies in his first term, U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday unveiled preliminary proposals for what might be his second term’s most important policy initiative — stricter gun control legislation.
Presenting his agenda at the White House to an audience that included relatives of the 20 school children killed by a gunman on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Mr. Obama outlined his plan consisting of: criminal background check requirement for all gun sales; reinstatement and strengthening of the assault weapons ban that lapsed in the U.S. Congress in 2004; restoration of the ten-round limit on ammunition magazines; and rolling back of the freeze on gun violence research.
While some of the steps he proposed, which came in the face of stiff opposition by pro-gun lobbies such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), require the support of a largely reluctant Congress, he pushed through 23 executive actions including strengthening the background-check system, providing training in ‘active shooter situations’, for schools, houses of worship and institutes of higher education. He also nominated Todd Jones, Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to become the ATF’s permanent Director.
The unveiling of the new measures was engulfed by a controversy over an advertisement released by the NRA criticising Mr. Obama for being “elitist” in providing armed guards to protect his daughters while attacking Americans’ rights to arm themselves. Amidst a sharp backlash to the NRA advertisement, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “Most Americans agree that a President’s children should not be used as pawns in a political fight. But to go so far as to make the safety of the President’s children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly.”
The controversy notwithstanding, Mr. Obama struck an emotional chord at the event unveiling his proposals. He said, “We have to examine ourselves in our hearts and ask yourselves: What is important?” The President added, “If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, if hunters and sportsmen, if responsible gun owners, if Americans of every background stand up and say, enough, we’ve suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue, then change will come.”