President Barack Obama unveiled an array of measures on Tuesday tightening control and enforcement of firearms in the U.S., using his presidential powers in the absence of legal changes he implored Congress to pass.
Obama accused the gun lobby of taking Congress hostage, but said "they cannot hold America hostage." He insisted it was possible to uphold the Second Amendment while doing something to tackle the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S. that he said had become "the new normal."
Watch Obama's full address below. If you cannot see the media player, click here to watch.
"This is not a plot to take away everybody's guns," Obama said in a ceremony in the East Room. "You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm. The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules."
An emotional Obama wiped tears away from his eye as he recalled the 20 first-graders killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He paid tribute to the parents, some of whom gathered for the ceremony, who he said had never imagined their child's life would be cut short by a bullet.
"Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad," Obama said.
At the centerpiece of Obama's plan is a more sweeping definition of gun dealers that the administration hopes will expand the number of sales subject to background checks. Under current law, only federally licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks on buyers. But at gun shows, websites and flea markets, sellers often skirt that requirement by declining to register as licensed dealers.
Aiming to narrow that loophole, the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is issuing updated guidance that says the government should deem anyone "in the business" of selling guns to be a dealer, regardless of where he or she sells the guns. To that end, the government will consider other factors, including how many guns a person sells, how frequently, and whether those guns are sold for a profit.
The White House also put sellers on notice that the administration planned to strengthen enforcement — including deploying 230 new examiners the FBI will hire to process background checks.
To lend a personal face to the issue, the White House assembled a cross-section of Americans whose lives were altered by the nation's most searing recent gun tragedies, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and relatives of victims from Charleston, S.C., at Virginia Tech. Mark Barden, whose son was shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School, introduced the president with a declaration that "we are better than this."
Invoking the words of Martin Luther King Jr., Obama said, "We need to feel the fierce urgency of now."
Obama's package of executive actions aims to curb what he's described as a scourge of gun violence in the U.S., punctuated by appalling mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; Charleston, South Carolina; and Tucson, Arizona, among many others. After Newtown, Obama sought far-reaching, bipartisan legislation that went beyond background checks.
When the effort collapsed in the Senate, the White House said it was thoroughly researching the president's powers to identify every legal step he could take on his own.
A more recent spate of gun-related atrocities, including in San Bernardino, California, shootings have spurred the administration to give the issue another look, as Obama seeks to make good on a policy issue that he's elevated time and again but has failed until now to advance.
NEXT: A look at the executive actions
The White House released the following information about the executive actions and what they are designed to do:
1.) Keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks.
· The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is making clear that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.
· ATF is finalizing a rule to require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust, corporation, or other legal entity.
· Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has sent a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records and criminal dispositions, information on persons disqualified because of a mental illness, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence.
· The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient. The envisioned improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun. The FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners and other staff to help process these background checks.
2.) Make our communities safer from gun violence.
· The Attorney General convened a call with U.S. Attorneys around the country to direct federal prosecutors to continue to focus on smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.
· The President’s FY2017 budget will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws.
· ATF has established an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking and is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.
· ATF is finalizing a rule to ensure that dealers who ship firearms notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen in transit.
· The Attorney General issued a memo encouraging every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.
3.) Increase mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system.
· The Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care.
· The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
· The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.
4.) Shape the future of gun safety technology.
· The President has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.
· The President has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.