Obama Announces Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence

Speaking at the White House, President Barack Obama announced several new initiatives to curb gun violence while flanked by survivors and families of victims.

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., and about his efforts to increase federal gun control in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., Jan. 5, 2016.
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., and about his efforts to increase federal gun control in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., Jan. 5, 2016. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Barack Obama formally announced his plans to help reduce gun violence, publicly announcing a series of initiatives that will change the way guns are processed and handled. 

Speaking from the White House on Tuesday, the president grew emotional when he spoke about the countless mass shootings that have occurred across the nation, particularly in schools such as Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“We are the only advanced country on earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency,” Obama said. “It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close.”

Obama was flanked by survivors and families of victims alike, including Jennifer Pinckney, the wife of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the Charleston, S.C., church shooting; Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis; and Nathaniel Pendleton Sr., whose daughter, Hadiya, was the victim of a gang-related shooting in Chicago.

With the new initiatives, the White House is seeking to keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks, as well as to increase mental-health treatment and reporting to the same background-check system. 

The administration is holding accountable anyone who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms, insisting that these entities, whether a store, a gun show or an Internet business, get a license and conduct the necessary background checks. The administration is also attempting to close a loophole that sometimes allows the acquisition of dangerous weapons through a trust or corporation by mandating a background check for these purchases, too.

The FBI will also play its part in the plan and is expected to hire more than 230 additional National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, examiners and other staff to help process these mandatory background checks. Hiring is expected to begin immediately and to increase the workforce by 50 percent. The bureau is also partnering with the U.S. Digital Service to modernize the check system, with the goal of processing background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to improve response time and notification of local authorities when someone attempts to buy a firearm illegally.

Budgetwise, the president is planning to include funding for 200 new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents and investigators to help enforce gun laws, including the initiatives just announced.

Obama is also addressing mental-health issues by allowing for easier access to health care but also allowing some limited permission for doctors to report mentally ill patients to the FBI background-check system. The rule would also allow health care providers to disclose this information, with certain restrictions. 

“The disclosure is restricted to limited demographic and certain other information needed for NICS purposes,” the rule states (pdf). “The rule specifically prohibits the disclosure of diagnostic or clinical information from medical records or other sources, and any mental health information beyond the indication that the individual is subject to the Federal mental health prohibitor.”

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