Obama says he is ready for fight as he lays out far-reaching gun control plans
President Barack Obama signalled he is ready for a fight with House Republicans and the National Rifle Association over gun control when he announced the most far-reaching initiative on the issue in nearly 20 years.
“I intend to use whatever weight this office holds,” Mr Obama vowed. Referring to the December 14th massacre of 20 six and seven-year-olds and six adults at Sandy Hook school in Connecticut, he said, “This is our first task as a society; keeping our children safe . . . We can’t put this off any longer.”
More than 900 Americans have been killed by guns in the 33 days since Sandy Hook, Mr Obama said. “Every day we wait, that number will keep growing.” He spoke of Grace McDonald (7), who was shot dead at Sandy Hook and whose parents sat in the audience. “We must act now, for Grace. For the 25 other innocent children and devoted educators who had so much left to give.”
Republican congressmen have labelled Mr Obama a monarch and threatened impeachment over his decision to use executive powers to address America’s gun problem. He signed 23 executive orders at the White House ceremony yesterday, seated before four children who wrote to him in the wake of Sandy Hook. Republican Representative Steve Stockman of Texas likened their presence to Saddam Hussein’s use of children as props.
But executive orders, Mr Obama admitted, are minor compared to the force of legislation that he asked Congress to enact. He demanded three things: universal background checks for the purchasers of firearms; a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for ammunition magazines; that Congress “help, not hinder” law enforcement by confirming his nominee as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco, and voting funding to “put more cops back on the job”.
Up to 40 per cent of gun sales in the US are made without background checks. The purpose of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, such as those used in Aurora, Colorado, last July to kill 12 people and wound 58 others, is “to pump out as many bullets as possible, as quickly as possible”, Mr Obama said. “Weapons designed for the theatre of war have no place in a movie theatre.” There was applause when he noted Ronald Reagan had urged an assault weapons ban.
But the 10-year ban passed in 1994 contributed to the Democrats’ loss of their House majority. The Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, a gun-owner from Nevada, says he seeks to pass legislation capable of winning a majority of votes in the Republican-held House. Forty-seven per cent of House members received campaign funds from the NRA in the last election.