Our nation has suffered too much at the hands of dangerous people who use guns to commit horrific acts of violence. As President Obama said following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, “We won’t be able to stop every violent act, but if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try.”
Most gun owners are responsible and law-abiding, and they use their guns safely. The President strongly believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. But to better protect our children and our communities from tragic mass shootings like those in Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, and Tucson, there are common-sense steps we can take right now.
While no law or set of laws will end gun violence, it is clear that the American people want action. If even one child’s life can be saved, then we need to act. Now is the time to do the right thing for our children, our communities, and the country we love.
Gunfire was probably the last thing U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents expected to hear during their Saturday morning town hall meeting in a Tucson grocery store parking lot. But by the time the last shot rang out on January 8, 2011, six lay dead or dying and thirteen more were injured. Rep. Giffords, the gunman's target, was shot in the head. She survived, but faced a long and difficult journey to recovery. Among those who lost their lives were a nine-year-old girl, a federal judge, and one of Giffords’ staffers.
President Obama speaks at a memorial service for in Tucson, Arizona. January 12, 2011
Four days later, President Obama spoke at a memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims, urging Americans to engage in a national conversation about the causes of this type of tragedy.
“We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future.”
Just after midnight on July 20, 2012, a man walked into a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire. He killed twelve people and wounded another 58.
Days after the shooting there, President Obama traveled to Aurora to speak with survivors and meet with family members and loved ones of each of the victims. He heard from local leaders about the community’s resilience in the face of such shocking violence – violence that reminded the nation it could have been any of us in that theater, or any of us mourning the loss of a friend or family member.
President Obama visits with survivors of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. July 22, 2012
President Obama also reminded us that even in the darkest of days, the extraordinary courage and strength of the American people shines through. He told the remarkable story of two young women he met who survived the shooting. After Allie was shot in the neck, her best friend Stephanie stayed beside her and kept pressure on the wound, even as bullets whizzed overhead. When they stopped, Stephanie helped carry Allie outside to the safety of a waiting ambulance, two parking lots away.
But just a few weeks later, another American community faced the unimaginable grief that cities like Tucson and Aurora knew too well. In Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a shooting in a Sikh temple left six people dead and four more wounded.
Despite witnessing these tragedies again and again and again, nothing could have steeled the nation for what would happen in Newtown, Connecticut.
On December 14, 2012, the day had just begun at Sandy Hook Elementary when a man broke into the school and started shooting. Within minutes, twenty of Sandy Hook’s first graders – 6 and 7 year olds – were killed in their classrooms. The school’s principal and psychologist were among the six staff members who died trying to protect the children in their care.
That afternoon, the President spoke emotionally about the day’s events from the White House. At a prayer vigil in Newtown two days later, President Obama said we couldn’t tolerate this kind of tragedy anymore. The time had come to take meaningful action to reduce gun violence in America.
President Obama speaks about the Newtown shooting. December 14, 2012
“If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try.”
Five days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, President Obama announced that Vice President Biden would lead an effort to develop a set of concrete policy proposals for reducing gun violence, due no later than January.
“This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now.”
Keeping with President Obama’s commitment to engage the American people in the process, the Vice President solicited input from citizens and organizations with a wide range of concerns, perspectives, and opinions while preparing his recommendations. From victims’ advocates to educators, elected leaders to sports and wildlife conservationists, he spoke with many groups about their ideas on curbing gun violence in the United States.
Goddard, then a college senior, was shot four times in a classroom at Virginia Tech. A single gunman killed 32 people at the school and wounded Goddard and 16 others in April 2007. Today, he is a gun violence prevention advocate.
Nance-Holt’s 16-year-old son, Blair, was killed riding a bus on his way to help out at his grandparents’ store in Roseland, Illinois.
Saizow directs Arizona’s Community Outreach for Project Safe Neighborhoods. She has worked as a criminologist, public policy analyst, community planner, and is working to develop and implement community crime prevention programs.
In addition to the Vice President’s meetings and discussions here in Washington, people from around the country joined the conversation about preventing gun violence by signing We the People petitions on the White House web site. As part of the official response to those petitions, President Obama recorded a special message for the more than 350,000 people who signed them, explaining that his efforts would only be successful with the continued help of Americans who stand up and speak out.
“That is how change happens. Because of committed Americans who work to make it happen. Because of you. You have started something and now I am asking you to keep at it. I am asking for your help to make a real, meaningful difference in the lives of our communities and our country.”
To keep the conversation going, Bruce Reed, the Vice President’s chief of staff, invited petition signers to join him on a conference call about the ongoing work at the White House. As domestic policy advisor in the Clinton White House, Reed worked closely with then-Senator Joe Biden to pass the 1994 Crime Bill that helped law enforcement bring down the rate of violent crime in America, and is deeply involved in developing the latest set of proposals.
The President's Plan to Reduce Gun Violence
On January 15, 2013, Vice President Biden delivered his policy proposals to President Obama. On January 16, 2013, the President put forward a specific plan to protect our children and communities by reducing gun violence. The plan combines executive actions and calls for legislative action that would help keep guns out of the wrong hands, ban assault and high-capacity magazines, make our schools safer, and increase access to mental health services.
- Require background checks for all gun sales
- Strengthen the background check system for gun sales
- Pass a new, stronger ban on assault weapons
- Limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds
- Finish the job of getting armor-piercing bullets off the streets
- Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime
- End the freeze on gun violence research
- Make our schools safer with new resource officers and counselors, better emergency response plans, and more nurturing school climates
- Ensure quality coverage of mental health treatment, particularly for young people
Congress should pass legislation that goes beyond closing the “gun show loophole” to require background checks for all firearm sales, with limited, common-sense exceptions for cases like certain transfers between family members and temporary transfers for hunting and sporting purposes.
For example, although the number of mental health records available to the system has increased by 800 percent since 2004, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that there are still 17 states that have made fewer than 10 mental health records available to the background check system. We need to make sure states and federal agencies are making available reliable information on those prohibited from having guns to the background check system.
Since announcing the plan in January, President Obama and his administration have taken a number of steps to help keep our kids and communities safer by making sure guns don't fall into the wrong hands.
Issued a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to share relevant data with the national background check system.
Issued a Presidential Memorandum requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
Issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence.
Clarified that healthcare providers may disclose information to law enforcement when a patient makes imminent threats of violence.
Clarified that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors from asking patients about guns in the home.
Nominated Todd Jones to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Met with federal, state, and local law enforcement to discuss how best to prevent and respond to mass shootings.
Clarified essential benefits in the Affordable Care Act, which will give 62 million Americans access to mental health benefits.
Continuing the Call for Action
“Now is the time to turn that heartbreak into something real. It won't solve every problem. There will still be gun deaths. There will still be tragedies. There will still be violence. There will still be evil. But we can make a difference… We can do better to make sure that fewer parents have to endure the pain of losing a child to an act of violence.”
"If we come together and raise our voices together and demand this change together, I’m convinced cooperation and common sense will prevail. We will find sensible, intelligent ways to make this country stronger and safer for our children."
At the end of the day, if our kids keep waking up in neighborhoods where they don’t feel safe on their own front porches, if they’re still attending schools with crumbling ceilings and ripped-uptextbooks, if there’s nowhere safe for them to go when that afternoon bell rings, then nothing speaks louder than that. Nothing.