President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for new bans on “military-style assault weapons” and high-capacity ammunition magazines and for universal background checks for gun buyers.
Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and four schoolchildren who had written the White House in the wake of the Newtown shooting, Obama also signed 23 executive actions aimed at curbing gun violence.
Those executive actions include strengthening existing background checks by requiring federal agencies make more data available, nominating a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, mandating better reporting of gun crimes and directing the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence. He also asked doctors and other medical professionals to help by reporting threats of violence from patients with access to firearms.
Despite fervid speculation before Wednesday’s announcement about the sweeping measures Obama might take, he laid much of the responsibility on Congress to take action on his $500 million plan.
“To make a real and lasting difference, Congress must act,” Obama said. “And Congress must act soon.”
The president vowed to “put everything I’ve got into this” but added, “the only way we can change is if the American people demand it.”
Obama said there will be those who call the government’s actions a “tyrannical all-out assault on liberty” but said such claims are unfounded. He said the majority of the American people agree with his proposals.
Obama concluded his remarks Wednesday by acknowledging the parents of 7-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary victim Grace McDonnell, a little girl who loved art. Obama said one of McDonnell’s paintings now hangs in his private office.
“We must act now, for Grace. For the 25 other innocent children and adults,” Obama said. “Let’s do the right thing for them and for this country we love so much.”
Before Wednesday’s announcement, the National Rifle Association vowed to wage “the fight of the century” against Obama.
“I warned you this day was coming and now it’s here,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre wrote in a fundraising letter to members. “It’s not about protecting your children. It’s not about stopping crime. It’s about banning your guns … PERIOD!”
But the organization issued a decidedly dialed-back statement Wednesday afternoon, saying it would “continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy,” the NRA said.
This post has been updated. Original minute-by-minute updates below:
12:14 p.m. Obama says he’s hung a painting made by Sandy Hook victim Grace McDonnell in his private office.
“We must act now, for Grace. For the 25 other innocent children and adults,” Obama says. “Let’s do the right thing for them and for this country we love so much.”
12:13 p.m. Obama: We have the right to worship freely was denied to Sikhs in a Wisconsin temple. The right to assemble peaceably was denied in an Oregon shopping mall, an Aurora movie theater. Denied to those at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary, on a Chicago street corner.
12:12 p.m. Obama says the most vital changes depend on congressional acting. Asks the American people to pressure their representatives.
12:11 p.m. Obama: “I will put everything I’ve got into this, so will Joe. But I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it.”
12:10 p.m. Obama says there will be some who warn of a “tyrannical all-out assault on liberty.”
12:08 p.m. Obama: I believe the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms. I respect the rights of sportsmen and hunters and people who own guns for collection and protection.
“We can respect the Second Amendment while preventing an irresponsible and law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale,” Obama says. He says these are common sense measures that have the support of the American people.
12:06 p.m. Obama: We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to someone else. Says Congress hasn’t confirmed an ATF director in six years.
Also calls for more police on the job and on the streets.
12:05 p.m. Obama: “Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines.”
12:04 p.m. Obama says Congress needs to require a universal background check for anyone who wants to buy a gun.
12:03 p.m. Obama says he’s signing a directive to strengthen the background check system, help schools, better reporting of gun crimes and enable the CDC to study gun violence.
12:01 p.m. Obama says in the month since Sandy Hook, 900 Americans have died from gun violence. “Every day we wait, that number will keep growing,” Obama says.
12:00 p.m. Obama says he started getting a lot of letters from kids after Newtown. Four of them are here today. One wrote: “I think there should be some changes, we should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook, I feel really bad.”
“These are our kids. This is what they’re thinking about. What we should be thinking about is our responsibility to care for them and shield them from harm,” Obama says.
11:57 a.m. Obama: “While reducing gun violence is a complicated challenge, protecting our children from harm shouldn’t be a divisive one.”
11:56 a.m. Vice President Joe Biden says he spoke with 229 organizations of law enforcement agencies, gun advocacy groups, sportsmen’s groups and more to deliver recommendations to Obama.
“We should do as much as we can, as quickly as we can….some will happen immediately, some will take some time,” Biden says.