Joined by the families of the children who were killed in Newtown, Connecticut during the mass elementary school shooting in December, President Obama unveiled a set of national gun control proposals, and signed 23 executive actions which do not require Congressional approval in an attempt to reduce gun violence.
“If there is one thing we can to do reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we have an obligation to try,” said President Obama, as relatives of gun victims, including the family of slain hero teacher Victoria Soto, solemnly listened.
National polls have shown that a majority of Latinos favor gun control legislation. An April 2012 Pew Research poll found only 29 percent of Latinos think gun rights are more important than gun control, which is a much lower number than the 57 percent of non-Hispanic whites who thought it was more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns than controlling gun ownership. Another poll by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found 69 percent of Latinos believe in stronger laws regarding the sale of guns, and nearly nine in ten – 86 percent – believe all gun buyers should have to pass a criminal background check.
The President announced he would immediately sign a series of executive actions recommended by Vice President Joseph Biden’s task force. The Vice President met with over 200 groups representing law enforcement, public health, sports and hunting enthusiasts, as well as gun rights and gun control advocates, to come up with sensible measures to reduce gun violence. The executive actions include requiring federal agencies to make data available for the federal background check system, reviewing safety standards for guns, and increasing resources and funds for schools and law enforcement communities to develop preparedness plans. The administration is also providing more tools for mental health professionals to help and monitor individuals who might do harm if they had access to guns.
But the most sweeping gun control changes would have to come from Congress. ”It’s time for Congress to require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun,” said Obama, explaining that 40 percent of guns sales take place without a background check. ”It’s not safe, or smart.” The President also urged Congress to ban military-assault weapons and 10-round magazines. Obama said the type of assault rifle used in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting had one purpose, “to pump out as many bullets designed to inflict maximum damage.” The Aurora shooter wounded 70 people and killed 12 in a matter of minutes, Obama added.
Yet there is a deep divide in Congress between legislators when it comes to gun control. Legislators such as Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio swiftly opposed the President’s measures. “Guns are not the problem; criminals with evil in their hearts and mentally ill people prone to violence are,” stated Rubio, saying Obama’s executive actions were an abuse of power “via executive fiat.” And Texas’ new Republican Latino Senator, Ted Cruz, recently said gun control measures were unconstitutional.
And hours before the President Obama unveiled his proposals, the nation’s most powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA) released a blistering ad today denouncing Obama and gun control advocates such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as “elitist hypocrites.” The ad says President Obama’s daughters get protection from “armed guards” (alluding to their Secret Service protection) so why should not all children be “protected” in schools? (The NRA recommends arming school personnel in response to recent school shootings). The White House called the ad ”repugnant and cowardly” for mentioning the First Daughters in the ongoing national gun debate.
Latino legislators who support gun control, such as Democratic Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Democratic New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, have called on Congress to act on Obama’s recommendations. “Enough is enough – let us finally pass commonsense gun laws, ” said Menendez recently as he urged a ban on high-capacity gun clips. California Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez said, “I applaud President Obama for these strong steps. Americans are tired of all the talk following these senseless tragedies,” stated Sanchez.
For his part, the President vowed action. “I will put everything I’ve got into this,” said Obama at the end of the press conference, saying that every day he looks at a picture drawn by a little girl who was killed in the Newtown shootings that he has placed in his private study. The Congressional debate over guns, however, is just getting started.