With a year remaining in his presidency, an emotional Barack Obama led a rallying call to tackle the scourge of America’s gun violence as he announced a series of measures intended to restrict access to weapons.
Wiping away tears as he spoke in the East Room of the White House, Mr Obama outlined new moves that would improve background checks and tighten the enforcement of rules.
“Instead of thinking how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarised, partisan debates,“ he said. “We do need to feel a sense of urgency about it.”
He claimed that while the US’s powerful gun lobby may have control over Congress, he said “they cannot hold America hostage”. He said it was possible to uphold the Second Amendment - which most legal scholars believes permits Americans the right to own weapons - while doing something to tackle the frequency of mass shootings that he said had no parallel in the developed world.
“This is not a plot to take away everybody's guns,” the president insisted. “You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm. The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules.”
The president has been critical of a Congress that has steadfastly refused to introduce new gun regulations over the years, despite 84 per cent of Americans saying they support background checks for gun purchases, according to research by Quinnipiac University.
Given Congress’s intransigence, Mr Obama said he would use his executive authority to bypass the body.
At the centerpiece of Mr Obama's plan is a more sweeping definition of gun dealers that the administration hopes will expand the number of sales subject to background checks.
The Associated Press said that under current laws, only federally licenced gun dealers must conduct background checks on buyers. But at gun shows, on websites and at flea markets, sellers can often skirt that requirement by declining to register as licensed dealers.
As a result of Mr Obama’s moves, a dealer will now be applied to anyone “in the business” of selling firearms.
He spoke surrounded by survivors of gun violence and relatives of some of the victims. More than 10,000 people are killed by guns every year, and yet politicians have struggled to make meaningful improvements to regulations.
Groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) have raised vast amounts of money to oppose gun regulations to support political candidates who vow to back their pro-gun positions.
The president has previously said that one of the most difficult times during his term in office was the aftermath of the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Among those present in the White House was Mark Barden, whose seven-year-old son was killed in the shooting. Also there were relatives of some of the nine people killed last summer in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” said the president, raising his hand as rolled down his cheek. “My hope earnestly has been that it would change the country.”
Mr Obama plans to participate in a town hall at George Mason University on Thursday which will be moderated by CNN. The reinvested interest in thwarting gun violence comes after the San Bernardino shooting that took the lives of 14 and wounded many others in December 2015.
Republicans were quick to pounce on reports of the president’s plan and promised to legally fight his actions. On Monday, US House Speaker Paul Ryan chided President Obama’s stance on gun rights.
“Ever since he was a candidate, President Obama’s dismissiveness toward Americans who value the 2nd Amendment has been well-documented,” he said.
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