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Obama to Take Action on Gun Violence

Photograph by Getty Images

President Obama delivered a four-point plan for common sense gun safety reform to reduce gun violence in the U.S. Tuesday morning from the East Room of the White House.

Executive action on gun reform will be as follows:

1. Firearm dealers must have a license and conduct background checks on buyers, or be subject to prosecution. Background checks will also be expanded to cover violent criminals trying to buy firearms "by hiding behind trusts and corporations and various cutouts" to circumvent the regular background check system. The system will also face an overhaul, with hiring to process applications faster and more efficient.

2. Existing gun safety laws will be better enforced with the addition of 200 new ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau) agents and investigators. Firearms dealers will be required to report lost or stolen guns in a timely manner.

3. Because nearly two in three firearm deaths are linked to suicides, more attention will be directed to helping those suffering from mental illness to get help. An additional $500 million will be dedicated to treating mental health issues the same as any other illness, under the Affordable Care Act. Federal mental health records will be part of the background system as well.

4. Gun safety technology will also be a new focus. Although the gun lobby has interfered with government data collection and statistical research on guns and gun violence in the past, the government will work with the private sector to bolster firearm technology. As Obama said, "If we can set it up so you can't unlock your phone unless you've got the right fingerprint, why can't we do the same thing for our guns?" The president urged voters to demand Congress do their part to keep our communities and children safer.

"We know we can't stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence." — President Obama

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Obama pointed a finger at Congress and partisan politics, and said we should be able to strike a balance that makes more of our constitutional rights important, too. He noted that although 90 percent of Senate Democrats voted in favor of a previous common-sense compromise bill backed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Virginia) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) that would have required background checks for anyone buying a gun, 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against it. And, the president said, even George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain supported the idea of more stringent background checks.

"Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well," said Obama. "Because our right to worship freely and safely—that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too."

The president also talked about the right to peacefully assemble, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—all denied to victims in shootings ranging from a movie theater in Colorado to college campuses nationwide. He also referenced the Columbine and Newtown massacres, and got teary-eyed for a moment.

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"Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day," Obama said. Chicago has been notoriously plagued by gun violence in recent years and is even the subject of the recent Spike Lee film "Chi-Raq," a fictional drama which explores gang violence in the city and how the girlfriend of a gang leader persuades other women involved with men in gangs to help stop the cycle of violence. Chicago has also been under scrutiny in real life for police misconduct and officer-involved shootings over the last several years. A Chicago police officer was charged with murder in November in the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald in which the officer shot the 17-year-old sixteen times. That case and others have caused thousands to demonstrate in the streets of Chicago to demand justice for those who have been killed.

"Yes, it will be hard, and it won't happen overnight," Obama said, noting that gun reform likely won't happen during the currently-elected Congress' tenure or even his own presidency. "But a lot of things don't happen overnight. A woman's right to vote didn't happen overnight. The liberation of African Americans didn't happen overnight. LGBT rights—that was decades' worth of work. So just because it's hard, that's no excuse not to try."

The president will speak more about gun violence at a town hall meeting in Virginia on January 7.

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Read the full text of President Obama's remarks on common sense gun safety reform here.

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