President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass his proposals Wednesday to curtail gun violence in the wake of the Newtown massacre, setting off what may be the fiercest fight of his presidency.
As expected, Obama called on lawmakers to restore the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as pass laws that would require background checks on all guns sales.
“We can’t put this off any longer,” Obama said while flanked by by Vice President Joe Biden and four children who addressed letters to the president shortly after 20 children and six adults were gunned down last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Obama conceded that no law can stop senseless acts of violence completely, and there’s no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy from occurring, but said he would use the power of his office to protect children from violence.
“If there’s ever one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, than we’ve got an obligation to try,” said the president, who also signed 23 executive orders on gun control.
Obama’s much-anticipated announcement came in the midst of a heated debate about guns in America that has erupted since the mass killings in Newtown and the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. that claimed the lives of 12 moviegoers and injured more than 70 others.
Gun advocates have been vocal about protecting their Second Amendment rights, arguing that placing limitations on firearms does a disservice to responsible gun owners. Many have said bans on assault weapons won’t do much to put a stop to gun crime because handguns are used in the majority of those instances.
Some of the president’s proposals have the support of many Americans, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll on public support for gun policy. The poll found that 85 percent of Americans are in favor of background checks for private and gun show sales, 55 percent would approve of a ban on assault weapons and 54 percent favor a ban on high-capacity magazines.
The vice president, who said he spoke with more than 200 groups since creating the Newtown task force—including gun advocates, sportsmen and hunters, religious leaders and lawmakers—paid tribute to the families of the Sandy Hook killings and said he was inspired by their strength.
“I have no illusions about what we’re up against or how hard the task is in front of us,” he said. “But I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook. The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.”
While laying out his proposals, Obama said America has a duty to protect innocent children from gun violence, even if mass slayings aren’t totally preventable.
“These are our kids,” he said. “This is what they’re thinking about. And so what we should be thinking about is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up and do everything that they’re capable of doing—not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country.
“This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe,” he said. “This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change.”
Rep. Carolyn McCarty (D-Mineola), a staunch supporter for tighter gun laws, joined the president at the White House for the announcement and said his proposals will “save lives” while challenging Congress to take up the issue.
“Congress must not stand idly by while innocent Americans are killed on a daily basis for no reason,” she said.
Obama’s proposal came one day after New York State passed what many supporters of the bill hailed as the “most comprehensive” gun control legislation in the country. The state was the first in the nation to pass new gun control measures after the Newtown massacre.
The National Rifle Association balked at the proposals and said it will work with members Congress instead.
“Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation,” the nation’s largest gun lobby said in a statement after Obama’s announcement. “Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”
Obama acknowledged that it will be tough sledding to get the bill passed, adding that change will only come if Americans demand it.
“If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, if hunters and sportsmen, if responsible gun owners, if Americans of every background stand up and say, enough; we’ve suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue—then change will come. That’s what it’s going to take,” he said.