President Obama issues executive order on gun control

Andrew Chuang and Karen Wang

On Jan. 5, President Barack Obama introduced a new set of executive actions in response to a staggering increase in gun violence, impacting community safety and gun distribution across the nation.

After being introduced by Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Shooting, the president shed tears as he spoke about the victims of shootings. In the emotional address, Obama discussed four main points that focused on background checks, community safety, mental health and gun technology (CNN).

Obama’s first point focused on utilizing background checks to prevent guns from ending up in the wrong hands. Using government agencies such as the ATF and the FBI to streamline the process, Obama hopes that quicker background processing, in addition to requiring all gun distributors to be licensed, will deter prohibited people from gaining access to firearms.  In addition, families and corporate firms are no longer permitted to pass down gun ownership.

Centered on community safety, Obama mentioned in his second point that he will utilize the ATF in enforcing federal gun laws, both online and in real life. A new budget allots for 200 Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and investigators to be deployed in order to enforce gun control regulations.

Through investments and changes in federal and Social Security regulations, Obama hopes to tackle the issue regarding mental health and background checks. The proposal asks for $500 million to be invested in tackling mental health issues that are associated with gun culture. One major point of opposition is the lack of privacy for mental health patients. The proposed plan requires medical professionals to provide information about mentally ill people that may be a danger to themselves or society.

Obama’s final point focused on creating more innovations regarding gun technology. Taking measures such as sponsoring research to find new innovations or exploring new technologies available, Obama hopes that firearms can be as technologically advanced as phones and computers (White House).

“If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprints, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?” Obama asked when addressing his final point (CNN).

In his announcement, he also criticized the Republicans in Congress for blocking several gun-control bills. In December, Senate Republicans blocked three gun-control bills after the San Bernardino shootings on Dec. 2., 2015, which killed 14 people. The San Bernardino Shooting marked the 355th mass shooting in 2015.

“Our thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. This country is dangerously close to falling into a new normal,” stated Sen. Chuck Schumer after the Republican blockade following the San Bernardino Mass Shooting (Huffington Post).

In the wake of many mass shootings, controlling America’s trigger-happy culture seems necessary. Background checks have systematically failed as many mass shootings have been completed with legally purchased guns. Under the definition of a mass shooting as one where four or more people are killed or injured, there were 372 mass shootings in 2015.  462 people were killed in mass shootings this year and over 30,000 people died due to gun violence (NPR and White House). The United States currently has the highest mass shooting number out of all developed nations in the world (Washington Post).  

Most Americans have shown agreement with the idea of increased gun control policies, with 67 percent of Americans claiming to favor the changes overall in a recent CNN/ORC poll. Two percent chose to remain indifferent, while 32 percent opposed the overall changes.

In response to Obama’s announcement however, Republican Speaker of House Paul Ryan criticized his actions and mentioned that his decisions will be challenged in the courts and brought down by a Republican President.

In a statement after his announcement, Ryan said, “He knows full well that the law already says that people who make their living selling firearms must be licensed, regardless of venue. Still, rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty” (CNN).

On the surface, Obama’s policies seem to have been taken in a favorable light in Hollywood. 113 stars, among them Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd and Olivia Wilde, thanked Obama through a letter organized by the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence. However, controversy has bloomed out of an email the White House sent to many A-List celebrities urging them to tweet their support for gun control and promoting the hashtag #stopgunviolence. In the email, a rough script was provided and a glance at the Twitter account of star Ashton Kutcher shows that certain celebrities passed on the message to their fans verbatim. This was labeled as abuse of government power and propaganda by the conservative media (People).

Retired neurosurgeon and Republican candidate Ben Carson tweeted, “The President’s actions have everything to do with advancing his political agenda & little to do with actually protecting American citizens”, in response to Obama’s announcement. Several other Republican candidates also spoke negatively about this issue, sharing the majority of Carson’s opinions.

Gov. Chris Christie posed a similar comment, labeling Obama as a “petulant child” when it comes to gun control.

As for now, Obama hopes that his set of executive actions can bypass the gridlocked Congress. However, he also stated that Congress needs to take part in alleviating the gun violence in this nation.  

“Congress still needs to act,” Obama said. “The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does. Because once Congress gets on board with common-sense gun safety measures, we can reduce gun violence a whole lot” (CNN).