President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and children, outlined his gun reform agenda Wednesday, vowing to do everything in his power to prevent further gun violence but calling on Congress to vote on a new assault weapons ban and universal background check requirement on gun purchases. He also called on Congress to limit gun magazines to 10 bullets.
"Congress must act and Congress must act soon," Obama told a room full of members of Congress, administration officials and families of those who had been killed in recent mass shootings including the one last month in Newtown, Conn.
Immediately following the announcement, the president signed 23 executive orders in areas not requiring Congressional approval. Those directives included asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study how to reduce gun violence, encouraging federal agencies and states to share mental health and criminal record data, nominating a director of the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as providing funding for schools to hire more resource officers and develop emergency plans. Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius and Education Sec. Arne Duncan will also lead a public discussion on mental health.
Obama said more than 900 people have been killed by gun violence since the Newtown shooting last month.
"As important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitution of actions from members of Congress," Obama said, citing public support for both an assault weapon ban and universal background checks. He also quoted from a letter Ronald Reagan wrote to Congress in 1994 in support of a similar ban to help build the bipartisan case for such an action.
Gun right advocates have been concerned since Obama's 2008 election that the president would move to infringe on their Second Amendment rights. During the president's first term, he was virtually silent on gun control and pressed for no major reforms. But following a recent series of deadly mass shootings, Obama has moved to make changes despite opposition from the powerful pro-gun lobbying group the National Rifle Association.
"This will be difficult. There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty," Obama said. "Not because that's true, but because they want to gin 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 key to reform, Obama said, will be support from the American public.
"The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership, says 'this time must be different,'" he said. "I will put everything I've got into this and so will Joe, but I tell ya, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it."
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said the relevant House committees would review the president's proposals.
"And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that," said Michael Steele, Boehner's spokesman.