WASHINGTON – President Obama unveiled the most ambitious gun control agenda in decades Wednesday, announcing a $500 million package of legislative proposals and executive actions aimed at curbing firearms violence, from mass shootings to street crime.
The president, counting on a shift in public opinion since the shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school last month, challenged Congress to mandate background checks for all gun buyers, ban high-capacity ammunition clips, and reinstate the assault weapons ban.
Obama signed 23 executive actions aimed at circumventing congressional opposition to new gun restrictions, including several designed to maximize prosecution of gun crimes and improve access to government data for background checks.
If there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try, said Obama, surrounded by lawmakers, gun control advocates and children who wrote to the president after the Dec. 14 shooting that killed 20 students and six staff members in Newtown, Conn.
By introducing the measures days before his inauguration, Obama is placing the gun debate at the top of his second-term agenda. He and his congressional allies face strong opposition, particularly in the Republican-run House, to his legislative proposals. The National Rifle Association, the biggest lobby for gun owners and makers, has vowed to fight any new limits.
The NRA, which warned members on its website Wednesday that the ultimate goal of gun control advocates was an outright ban on your guns, released a statement saying the group would work with Congress to find real solutions to protecting children.
Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation, the NRA statement said.
Along with reinstating the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, Obama wants Congress to prohibit the possession of armor-piercing ammunition, increase criminal penalties for gun trafficking and spend $4 billion to help communities keep 15,000 police officers on duty.
As part of his announcements, Obama nominated Todd Jones as the director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Jones is currently acting director of the agency.
White House officials emphasized that no single law or action will stop gun violence across the country. Without legislative action, the president acknowledged the steps he can take will have limited effect.
To make a real and lasting difference, Congress must act, Obama said. And Congress must act soon.
It has been almost two decades since Congress passed a major rewrite of U.S. gun laws, with the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired 10 years later. The NRA has succeeded in influencing lawmakers through campaign contributions and its grass-roots network of 4 million members.
Renewing the assault weapons ban will be the toughest provision and may not be achievable, said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., whose husband was murdered in a 1993 mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road.
You have to take a look at your options, McCarthy said. If we can’t lift it to get it done, then hopefully we’ll go for the large magazines.
Vice President Biden, who Obama asked to come up with recommendations after the Newtown shooting, Wednesday addressed the families of victims of the mass killing. The administration will do everything in our power to honor the memory of your children, Biden said.
I have no illusions to what we’re up against, he said. We should do as much as we can as quickly as we can.
In a sign of the intensity of the battle ahead, the NRA on Wednesday released an ad labeling Obama an elitist hypocrite because his own children receive armed protection.
Without identifying Obama’s two young daughters by name or the Washington school they attend, the narrator of an NRA video on its website asks: Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools, when his kids are protected by armed guards at their schools?
Obama’s spokesman said the president’s children shouldn’t be pawns in a political fight.
To go so far as to make the safety of the president’s children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.