Thirty-three days after the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Vice-President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama announced a comprehensive plan to strengthen the country's gun-control laws, including 23 executive actions and a strongly worded request that Congress act quickly to pass new laws. "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. "And I'm going to do my part. As soon as I'm finished speaking here, I will sign a directive giving Congress some of the tools they need to reduce gun violence." But he stressed, "They are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress. To make a real, lasting difference, Congress too must act. And they must act soon."
The president was introduced by Biden, who led the government task force on guns, and met with 229 groups, from victims to the NRA, in drafting a course of action. "The president and I are going to do everything in our power to honor the memory of your children and wives," Biden said to the victims of Sandy Hook. "We should do as much as we can, as quickly we can, and we cannot let perfect be the enemy of good."
Among the White House's proposals are the implementation of universal background checks, the banning of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines holding more than ten rounds, the hiring of resource officers at schools "if they want them," and a renewed focus on treating mental illness. Obama also called for research into gun violence in popular culture. "We don't benefit from ignorance," he said. "We don't benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence." The New York Times has a full list of the proposals. (The White House has its own slick presentation here.)
"Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater. A majority of Americans agree with us on this," Obama added. "And by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994 urging them — this is Ronald Reagan speaking — urging them to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons.
Obama was joined by four young children who he said wrote him letters after the massacre in Newtown. He quoted their spare, simple words: "I feel terrible for the parents who lost their children, I love my country, and I want everyone to be happy and safe," one wrote. Another said, "I think there should be some changes. We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook. I feel really bad."
"This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged," said Obama. "The only way we can change is if the American people demand it."
Here's the full list of Obama's executive actions, via the White House:
1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.
Update: The reactions to Obama's speech have started to roll in. "House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. "And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that."
A big, loud man with a radio show called the speech "the children as human shields show." Of Obama and Biden, he added, "These guys are somber."
Update II: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said his group will hold its first hearing on gun violence January 30.
Update III: Florida Senator Marco Rubio is not pleased with Obama's plan. "Nothing the President is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook. President Obama is targeting the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence," said the Republican in a statement. "Rolling back responsible citizens' rights is not the proper response to tragedies committed by criminals and the mentally ill. Making matters worse is that President Obama is again abusing his power by imposing his policies via executive fiat instead of allowing them to be debated in Congress. President Obama's frustration with our republic and the way it works doesn’t give him license to ignore the Constitution."
Update IV: Extremely outspoken gun critic Michael Bloomberg, on the other hand, praised Obama's action and said, "Today, it's clear that the President and Vice-President heard us, and I want to thank them for listening. The legislative and executive actions the President endorsed today reflect our coalition’s top priorities, and we look forward to working with Congress to pass common sense legislation that will make our communities safer – for our families, our children, and our police officers."
Update V: In its response to the president, the NRA toned down the crazy a little bit, but not entirely:
Throughout its history, the National Rifle Association has led efforts to promote safety and responsible gun ownership. Keeping our children and society safe remains our top priority.
The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America’s most valuable asset – our children.
Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.