Barack Obama shed tears as he announced long-awaited gun control measures on Tuesday in the wake of countless mass shootings that have made the US an international outlier for gun violence. The proposals, made by executive action against the will of Congress, were revealed at the White House, the president flanked by families of the victims of many of the mass shooting that have blighted his presidency.
The action will improve the background check system for gun sales by expanding the number of buyers who are subject to criminal checks; give millions of additional dollars to mental health services; and kick-start smart gun technology.
Obama wept while talking about the massacre in at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012
The action also sought to improve research into gun violence, increase domestic violence prosecutions and better keep track of lost firearms.
"Fort Hood, Binghamton, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, the Navy Yard, Santa Barbara, Charleston, San Bernardino. Too many," the president reflected. Weeping as he referred to the children slain at the Newtown massacre in 2012, he said: “First graders... every time I think about those kids it makes me mad."
Chastising congress for its inaction despite the incessant deaths, Obama said the US is "not the only country in earth with violent or dangerous people" but it “is the only advanced country on earth that sees this type of mass violence with this type of frequency."
“It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries," he added. "It’s not even close."
"Somehow, we become numb to it and we start thinking, 'This is normal,'" he continued. “Instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarised debates. The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they can’t hold America hostage. Congress still needs to act. The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does.”
US President Barack Obama delivers a statement on executive actions to reduce gun violence on January 5, 2016 at the White House
The background check proposals, which enjoy widespread support across the US, were immediately attacked by Republicans as unconstitutional, with legal challenges likely to follow.
"This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it," said House Speaker Paul Ryan.
In a statement released after Obama's speech, the speaker challenged the president's "dismissiveness toward Americans who value the Second Amendment," saying: "At a time when the country wants the president to lead the fight against radical Islamic terror, this is yet another attempt to divide and distract from his failed policies."
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted: "Obama overstepping his constitutional authority to force his policies on the American people."
Jeb Bush, currently running for the Republican presidential nomination, released a statement condemning the move. "Rather than taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens as Obama and [Hillary] Clinton would like to do, we should focus on keeping guns out of the hands of the terrorists who want to kill innocent Americans,” he said.
Those sentiments were echoed by many of Bush's GOP rivals, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who promised to repeal the executive action once he's president. "When you live by the pen, you die by the pen," he said, adding: that his own pen "has an eraser on it."