WASHINGTON—Just over one month after the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., efforts to reform existing gun laws have forged ahead.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced proposals for sweeping gun law reform. Some of the proposals will require congressional approval, but many were signed into action that same day.
“We can’t put this off any longer,” the president said in announcing the reforms at the White House.
Children who had written letters of support, along with Chris and Lynn McDonnell, from Newtown, were included in a ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. The McDonnell’s daughter, Grace, was among the 20 first-graders and six adult staff killed by a lone gunman at the Sandy Hook School on Dec. 14.
Obama said that he would sign a directive that would give law enforcement agencies, schools, mental health professionals, and public health officials the tools to help reduce gun violence.
Specific actions include strengthening existing systems for background checks, removing the ban on federal research into gun violence, providing more resource offices for schools, and improving access to mental health services.
In addition to the 23 executive actions proposed, Obama called on Congress to pass specific initiatives “right away.”
“As important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress,” said the president.
The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.
—Vice President Joe Biden
His proposals include universal background checks, restoring a ban on military-style assault weapons, and limiting magazines to 10 rounds, plus strengthening prosecution and penalties for those who sell firearms to criminals.
The president’s proposals were quickly dismissed by leadership of the U.S. gun lobby group the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The group has said that it is ready for a fight over any changes to gun laws.
“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,” reads an official statement by the NRA in response to President Obama’s announcement.
“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,” the statement reads.
John Lott, researcher and author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” decried the president’s proposals as a “grab basket of what gun control proponents have been proposing for decades.”
He believes that the proposals will have little effect on gun violence and may actually increase it.
“They could actually make it more likely that crimes are committed,” said Lott. In reference to the Newtown shooting, he added, “I can’t see anything that would seriously stop these attacks from occurring.”
The Sandy Hook shooting has galvanized a nation shocked at the extent of a tragedy involving such young lives.
“I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook,” Vice President Joe Biden said alongside the president Wednesday. “The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.”
Former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden is a veteran of gun law reform and was tasked by the president to deliver “concrete proposals” for reform by the end of January.
In all the time I’ve been working on this issue, there has never been greater public support for common sense gun laws—and it’s up to all of us to make sure that Congress hears that.
—Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York
Biden, through the congressional task force, met with representatives of 229 different groups, basing his recommendations for reform on a consensus of views. The proposals may not solve the problem entirely, but they are a start, according to Biden.
“We should do as much as we can, as quickly as we can,” he said. “And we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
New York Reforms Gun Laws
The presidential proposals for gun law reform were preceded by action at the state level, with New York becoming the first state since Newtown to sign into law an array of new legislation designed to curb gun violence.
While some criticized the legislation for being rushed, with the Citizens Union of the City of New York issuing a statement of concern over the lack of public discussion, the legislation passed in the New York State Assembly 104–43 Tuesday, albeit after nearly five hours of debate.
Included among the 56 sections of the new bill were an expansion of the state’s assault weapons ban, a limit on high-capacity magazines, and requirements to improve background checks, according to a statement from New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
At the local level, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg commended both the president and vice president for “a bold and comprehensive plan to tackle gun violence.”
Bloomberg is co-chair of the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns, whose membership swelled by 100 mayors following the Newtown shooting. There are now 800 members in the coalition from around the country.
Bloomberg said that many of his organization’s recommendations were adopted in the president’s proposals, including background checks, restrictions on semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, and tougher penalties for gun traffickers.
“Now the hard work really begins,” he told reporters in New York Wednesday.
Bloomberg said that he would meet with members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns in Washington Friday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors and that he would “be urging members of Congress to seize this moment.”
“In all the time I’ve been working on this issue, there has never been greater public support for common sense gun laws—and it’s up to all of us to make sure that Congress hears that,” he said.
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