President Barack Obama on Tuesday forcefully criticized inaction in the face of a polarized gun violence debate during an emotional speech announcing executive actions he was taking to address the problem before his term in office ends.
Obama unveiled plans for more extensive background checks on gun purchases, additional support to aid those with mental illnesses and a vow to develop technology to improve gun safety. Specifically, Obama said he would require additional licenses and checks on gun sellers, invest $500 million in mental health treatment and increase staffing at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms by 200 agents in order to process background checks faster.
The President noted that he wasn’t running for reelection and didn’t need to score any political points with these latest executive actions.
“I believe in the Second Amendment. It’s there written on the paper. It guarantees a right to bear arms,” Obama said. “No matter how many times people try to twist my words around, I taught constitutional law. I know a little about this. I get it. But I also believe that we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment.”
A father of a boy who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting introduced the President, who spoke from the White House. Obama began his speech by rattling off the names of some of the communities that have been devastated by mass shootings.
“Too many,” he said. “And instead of thinking about how to solve the problem this has become one of our most polarized, partisan debates.”
At one point in his speech, when speaking about the victims in the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Obama got emotional and paused for a moment before continuing to wipe tears from his eyes.
Obama went on to insist that his actions were not “the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation.”
“Contrary to the claims of some presidential candidates apparently before this meeting, this is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns,” he said.
“Each time this comes up we are fed the excuse that common sense reforms such as background checks might not have stopped the last massacre. So why bother trying?” Obama later added. “I reject that thinking.”
Obama compared taking steps to curb gun violence to attempts to decrease traffic fatalities.
“We maybe can’t save everybody, but we could save some,” he said.
Obama, who is scheduled to participate in a town hall discussion on gun control Thursday, said Congress still needed to take its own steps to curb gun violence.
“So the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now. But they cannot hold America hostage. We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom,” Obama said.
This post has been updated.