President Barack Obama referenced the Jan. 8, 2011 mass shooting in Tucson during the announcement of his executive actions on gun control—the tragedy's fifth anniversary is just three days away.
The president said during a speech this morning that when he saw former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she recovered from being shot in the head, he wasn't sure she was going to survive. That day, six people died, and a total of 13, including Giffords and former congressman Ron Barber, were wounded.
Then there's the deadly shooting of 26 people, including 20 kindergartners and first-grades, in Newtown, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago (the president tearfully remembered the young victims), the 2012 shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, and the 330 mass shootings that occurred in 2015
—these are reasons enough to enact tougher policies on who gets to own a gun and who doesn't.
From now on, everyone who plans to sell weapons must get a federal license and conduct background checks or be subject to criminal prosecution—whether selling guns online or at the gun show. This is an attempt to close the so-called "gun show loophole." Obama said the FBI will make background checks more efficient and quicker, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is getting more funding to hire a greater number of agents and investigators. Obama also demanded improving gun safety technology.
He said mental health coverage in this country needs dramatic changes to make sure everyone is getting the care they need. Billions of dollars have been cut from mental health services in the U.S., and "For those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings...here is your chance to support these efforts. Put your money where your mouth is," Obama said in his speech. The executive actions ask for $500 million in new funding for mental health services.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva celebrated Obama's move, and issued this statement:
Gabby’s attack made this issue personal for every single Member of Congress. If not then, then when? If not after Newtown, when 26 children and adults were massacred, then when? If not after terrorists opened fire at a facility for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino, then when? The answer is never for Congressional Republicans, because they’re already bought and sold by the gun industry.
The NRA will try to say this is solely about taking away our Second Amendment rights, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Their number one goal is maintaining gun sales, while the number one goal of Congressional leaders should be the safety of the American people. President Obama took steps today to rise above the GOP’s intransigence on gun violence, and proposed much-needed investments in our enforcement and mental health capabilities. I look forward to working with him and our next president to build on this success.
While others greatly criticized the president.
U.S. Sen. John McCain issued this statement:
President Obama’s executive orders on gun control are just the first of thousands of new unilateral actions that the White House plans to roll out this year that are projected to cost American businesses and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. With these unconstitutional executive orders, President Obama has once again ignored the separation of powers and disregarded the rule of law. Regardless of merit, this is a classic abuse of executive power. These issues must be debated and decided by the representatives of the people – not by executive fiat. I will continue to uphold my obligation as an elected official in Congress to push back on all of President Obama’s unconstitutional actions.
Statement from U.S. Rep. Martha McSally:
While we can all agree we want to keep our communities safe from terrorism and gun violence, today’s orders from the President, which he’s unilaterally forcing on the American people, would do little to improve our safety. If he really wanted to improve security, he’d get serious about addressing the very real, very capable ISIS threat. His Administration’s feeble response has allowed radical Islamists to grow and spread their terror globally and at home, as we’ve seen in the recent string of massacres that have occurred at their hands in the United States, Europe, and around the world.
In addition, while the President’s orders recognize we must better address mental illness, he should be working with Congress, not going around us. I’ve introduced a bipartisan bill to help our communities better identify and treat mental illness and help prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms. It has widespread support from the mental health community, social workers, law enforcement, and Second Amendment advocates, to name a few. It also gets to the root of the problem and is the type of legislation that can actually move forward in a divided government, which is where our focus should be. I’ll continue to work to get results and make a difference for Southern Arizonans.
This isn't about infringing anyone's constitutional rights, it is a commonsense approach to make this country safer, Obama said. It's as simple as passing a background check, then people can purchase a gun. The way the system is set up right now makes it easy for dangerous people with serious criminal convictions—from domestic violence to aggravated assault—to get their hands on weapons, the president added.
After Sandy Hook, Obama supported a gun control bill that went nowhere because most Republicans in Congress voted against it, even though many Republican voters support commonsense gun control, he said.
"How did this become such a partisan issue?" Obama asked. "Gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage but it cannot hold America hostage. We know we can't stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world, but maybe we can stop one act of evil, one act of violence. We know background checks make a difference."
After Connecticut passed a law demanding tougher background checks to buy weapons, gun violence decreased by 40 percent, while in states like Missouri, where residents can purchase guns without restriction, gun violence rates are among the worst in the nation, Obama said.
"Yes, it will be hard and it won't happen overnight, it won't happen during this Congress, it won't happen during my presidency, but a lot of things don't happen overnight," he said. "A woman's right to vote didn't happen overnight, liberation of African-Americans didn't happen overnight, LGBT rights...that was decades worth of work. Just [because] it's hard, that is no excuse not to try."
"If we love our kids, love this country and care about its future, we can find the courage to vote...mobilize...cut through all the noise and do what a sensible country would do. That is what we are doing today, and tomorrow we should do more, and we should do more the day after that. If we do that, we will leave behind a nation stronger than the one we inherited."