12:48 pm
Wed January 16, 2013

The President's Plans To Reduce Gun Violence

Originally published on Wed January 16, 2013 1:29 pm



This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. After Newtown, the president promised to do everything in his power to reduce gun violence. He assigned Vice President Joe Biden to come up with a list of proposals which he received earlier this week. Today, the president took action. This morning at the Eisenhower executive office building, President Obama and Vice President Biden joined victims of the Newtown shooting, as well as children who wrote letters to the president about gun violence in the weeks following the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary.

The president read from some of those letters and pointed out that gun violence continues.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun. Nine hundred in the past month. And every day we wait, that number will keep growing. So I'm putting forward a specific set of proposals, based on the work of Joe's taskforce, and in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality.

Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil; if there's even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try and I'm going to do my part.

CONAN: A few minutes later, the president signed a set of 23 executive actions, including a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence. He also called for funding for more research.

OBAMA: And while year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it. And Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds. We don't benefit from ignorance.

We don't benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.

CONAN: The president emphasized that executive action is no substitute for action from members of Congress, and he called on Congress to pass specific proposals right away. First, he asked Congress to require universal background checks for anyone buying a gun. He called that measure common sense. Secondly, he called on Congress to restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines.

Lastly, President Obama called on Congress to help law enforcement do its job, confirm Todd Jones as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and help local governments put more cops back on the job. The president took care to reiterate his respect for the Second Amendment and for what he called our strong tradition of gun ownership and the rights of hunters and sportsmen, but he also warned of critics who will try to paint his proposed reforms as an attack on liberty.

OBAMA: There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publically warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty. Not because that's true, but because they want to jet up fear, or higher ratings or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes, they'll do everything they can to block any common sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever.

The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different; that this time we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.

CONAN: The president ended with the story of one of the Newtown victims, Grace McDonald. Her parents, Lynn and Chris, were at the Eisenhower executive office building this morning.

OBAMA: Grace was seven years old when she was struck down, just a gorgeous, caring, joyful little girl. I'm told she loved pink. She loved the beach. She dreamed of becoming a painter. And so just before I left, Chris, her father, gave me one her paintings. And I hung it in my private study just off the Oval Office. And every time I look at that painting, I think about Grace and I think about the life that she lived and the life that lay ahead of her.

And most of all, I think about how when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now - for Grace, for the 25 other innocent children and devoted educators who had so much left to give; for the men and women in big cities and small towns that fall victim to senseless violence each and every day; for all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm. Let's do the right thing.

Let's do the right thing for them and for this country that we love so much. Thank you. Let's sign these orders.

CONAN: President Obama, earlier today. Well, we've heard specifics. A little more than a month after Newtown, which, if any of the president's proposals and actions, might make a real difference? We'll get to phone calls a bit later in the program, but you can send emails now. The address is Talk@NPR.org. You can also join the conversation at our website, that's at NPR.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us here in Studio 3A. And Scott, always good to have you on the program.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

CONAN: The president said he's going to put all of this weight behind these proposals and they do not lack for ambition.

HORSLEY: That's right. But he's also realistic and said his way alone is not going to be enough to carry the day. He knows that, in particular, the legislative proposals, the pieces of this gun violence plan that require Congressional action, it's going to be an uphill battle. And he said this will not happen unless the American people demand it. And not just, he said, the usual suspect - meaning liberals in urban areas who've long been supportive of more gun control measures.

Certainly, people like Michael Bloomberg are important in this effort, but he says it's going to take NRA members themselves. It's going to take people in rural neighborhoods where hunting and gun ownership is a very deep-seated part of the culture. Those folks need to also be in touch with their lawmakers, if the president's - if the legislative piece of the president's agenda's going to be put into force.

CONAN: And there could be some resistance to even some of those executive orders. Yes, the president has the power to do those things, but the Congress has a voice, too.

HORSLEY: There's already been suggestions that some of these could be subject to litigation. For example, one of the things the president talked about is freeing up government researchers to do more investigation on the public health aspects of gun violence. It's a testament to the power of the gun lobby that until now the CDC, for example, has not even been able to go out and do research on gun violence the way they might do research on, say...

CONAN: The flu.

HORSLEY: ...the flu, exactly. And, you know, if you think about, for example, the way that the food safety agencies respond when there's a food-borne illness outbreak, we certainly would not allow, say, a spinach farmer to say, well, you can't trace the suspect spinach back to me in the way that we've made it very difficult to trace suspect guns back to gun dealers. So just the fact that the president has said we're going to free up government researchers to investigate, because he said ignorance is not our friend in this effort, that's likely to be tested as well.

CONAN: And the Congress, well, they can't defy an executive order. They could defund the National Institutes of Health.

HORSLEY: In fact, that's what they've tried to do. Congress has said the CDC cannot conduct research that would advocate gun control. Now, that's had a very chilling effect, and in point of fact there's really basically been no research done. What the president's lawyers have said is, well, it's not advocacy to simply do research into the causes of gun violence.

And of course he's also calling for some funding to look particularly into the impact of the entertainment industry and violent video games. And those are of course things that the gun lobby likes to sort of deflect attention onto. And so he's throwing a bone there, saying some of this research ought to be into those areas as well.

CONAN: Well, what about the suggestion, the part of the congressional piece that he said enjoyed the support of so much of the American people. And that's for closing the so-called gun show loophole. Some 40 percent of the guns that are sold in this country are not subject to background checks because they're sold either at gun shows or sold privately.

HORSLEY: Yeah, and gun show loophole is really kind of a misnomer because of course this is any after-market sale by anyone other than a federally licensed gun dealer. And as you say, it's about four in 10 gun sales. One administration official said, you know, what if you went to the airport and 60 percent of the passengers had to go through the TSA metal detectors but the other 40 percent just waltzed onto the plane? We wouldn't think that was a very reasonable approach.

So what the proponents of this idea are saying is let's make every gun buyer subject to the same kind of background check. There's some support for this from the licensed retailers, because after all they're sort of at a competitive disadvantage if they're forced to do background checks and others are not. But this is likely to meet a lot of resistance. Opponents will see this as a step in the direction of a national gun registry, which they're of course very much opposed to.

Even though this has very broad public support as a practical matter, it could be difficult to carry out.

CONAN: And another of his executive orders today was to nominate Todd Jones to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. There's not been a director for the past six years. President Obama hasn't nominated one to begin with. Now he does. Of course that has to be approved by Congress.

HORSLEY: He did nominate one, who never got much of a hearing, never got a hearing at all, because he said some things which suggested he was going to run afoul of the gun rights groups. But right, that agency has been without a fulltime confirmed director for half a dozen years now. This is one of the things that Mayor Bloomberg's group has been urging the president to do. In fact, they wanted him to go further and use a recess appointment while Congress was on their holiday break to put somebody in charge at ATF. The president didn't do that. He's going to try to get one confirmed through the ordinary Senate process.

CONAN: Scott Horsley, NPR White House correspondent, stay with us if you will. We're talking about President Obama's plans to reduce gun violence. What, if anything, do you think that's proposed today might make a difference? Email us, talk@npr.org. Again, you can join the conversation also at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Earlier today President Obama presented a set of executive actions and proposals to reduce gun violence in this country. Ahead of his announcement the National Rifle Association released a video on its website.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes but he's just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security. Protection for their kids and gun-free zones for ours.

CONAN: Around the country l