Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who nearly died in a horrific mass shooting five years ago, was front and center at the White House as President Barack Obama used his executive powers to tighten the nation’s gun laws Tuesday.
Giffords, the first Jewish congresswoman from her home state of Arizona, received a standing ovation as she entered the East Room ahead of the President’s historic announcement that he would sidestep Congress and order more gun sellers to get licenses and more gun buyers to undergo background checks.
Giffords became a staunch advocate for tougher gun laws as she set on a long and difficult road to recover from a gunshot wound to the head in the Tucson, Ariz. attack that left six dead.
“33 Americans are murdered w/ a gun every day. And Congress has done nothing. Today’s responsible actions by @POTUS will save lives,” Giffords tweeted in praise of Obama.
Obama wiped back tears as he remembered children who died in a mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
.@POTUS, thanks for standing up to the gun lobby & ensuring fewer guns fall into the wrong hands. #StopGunViolencepic.twitter.com/B7puBWCCJN— Gabrielle Giffords (@GabbyGiffords) January 5, 2016
Surrounded by family members of people killed in shootings, his voice rose to a yell as he said the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms needed to be balanced by the right to worship, gather peacefully and live their lives.
Obama has often said his toughest time in office was grappling with the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said, tears rolling down his cheek. “That changed me, that day,” he said, after being introduced by Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son was killed in the shooting. “My hope earnestly has been that it would change the country.”
After that tragedy, the Democratic president failed to persuade Congress to toughen U.S. gun laws. He has blamed lawmakers for being in the thrall of the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby group.
Here are 7 actions you can take right now to help #StopGunViolencehttps://t.co/CgLZ749laD via @Everytown— Amy Schumer (@amyschumer) January 5, 2016
Also at the White House was actress and funny lady Amy Schumer, who got involved in the issue after a mass shooting at a theater showing her flick, “Trainwreck” over the summer.
Obama acknowledged that laws won’t change during his remaining year in office, but said he will continue to raise the issue in the time he has left.
Jewish groups praised new executive actions by President Barack Obama to reduce gun violence.
Representatives of the National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Women International and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, were present at the announcement of the initiatives. They were among an array of groups including the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and its Central Conference of American Rabbis that praised the actions.
With his executive actions, Obama is directing federal agencies to take the steps he proposed.
“These proposals are a step forward,” said Jared Feldman, the JCPA’s Washington director. “They are clearly insufficient to the magnitude of the problem. We’re going to need Congress to engage — and engage substantively — on these issues.”
LEGAL CHALLENGES EXPECTED
The U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment gives Americans the right to have arms, a right that is fiercely defended.
Obama laid out executive action he is taking to require more gun sellers to get licenses and more gun buyers to undergo background checks.
Under the changes, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is issuing guidelines intended to narrow exceptions to a system that requires sellers to check with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether buyers have criminal records, are charged with crimes or have mental health conditions that would bar them from owning a gun.
The proposal is “ripe for abuse” by the government, said Chris Cox, an official with the National Rifle Association in a statement, adding that the powerful gun lobby group will continue to fight to protect Americans’ constitutional rights.
Legal challenges to the changes, which are contained in guidance from the ATF, are expected. The crucial question in any direct legal challenge will be whether the ATF guidance creates new obligations, or merely clarifies existing law.
The more the Obama administration acts as though the guidance has created a new legal requirement, the more legal trouble it might invite, said Lisa Heinzerling, administrative law professor at Georgetown University.
REPUBLICANS VOW TO FIGHT
Republican leaders were quick to denounce Obama’s gun changes, with most Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential race promising to reverse his actions if they win the White House. Democratic candidates praised the moves.
Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, called the changes “executive overreach” that “is all about burnishing the president’s legacy and boosting Democrat enthusiasm in a presidential election year.”
Republicans who control Congress made it clear that they oppose the changes, although some downplayed their significance.
“Ultimately, this executive ‘guidance’ is only a weak gesture - a shell of what the president actually wants,” said Kevin McCarthy, leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.—With Reuters