Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and a group of children who had written in support, President Barack Obama signed a proposal to Congress Wednesday to strengthen United States gun laws, including enforcing background checks and renewing a ban on military-grade assault rifles.
"If America worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one that occurred in Newtown," Obama said.
He listed some specific measures, including a 10-round limit on magazines for firearms, and asked congress to confirm Todd Jones to fill the long-dormant role of chief for the Bureau of Alchol, Tobacco and Firearms -- and briefly mentioned other measures, including helping schools hire more resource offices and making sure mental health professionals have the tools they need.
He suggested Congress should fund research into the link between gun violence and violent video games. But assault rifle bans and universal background checks made up the core of his proposal.
"The type of assault rifle used in [the Aurora movie theater shooting] has one purpose...to pump out as many rounds as possible," he said. "Weapons designed for the theatre of war have no place in a movie theater."
The law already requires gun owners to run background checks, but federal authorities have struggled to enforce that law.
Obama said he believes Americans are ready, and that he has majority support -- including 70 percent of the National Rifle Association, according to one poll -- but that lobbyists and pundits have held laws back.
"There will be lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty," he said. "Not because that's true, but because they want to generate fear, revenues or higher ratings for themselves. The only way we'll be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different."
Last month Obama asked Biden to come up with "concrete steps" to prevent mass shootings and the broader epidemic of gun violence. Biden's task force met with some Sandy Hook parents, including those of in the Dec.14 shooting.
Other parents of children lost in the shooting have actively petitioned the White House to act.
"We recognize that no single law or reform will prevent targeted school shootings," said the parents of 6-year-old Noah Pozner in a letter provided to the Hartford Courant. "However, by enacting a wide range of reforms, federal, state and local governments can make our children much safer in schools."
Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe, one of the first on the scene of the shooting, also asked the President to consider new legislation -- specifically, limiting access to the kind of heavy weaponry used by the shooter.
"We never like to think we're outgunned in any situation we're dealing with," he said in an interview with NBC News.
Sandy Hook parents and other Newtown community members have asked for changes in attitudes at the community level across the United States. The advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise launched a nationwide campaign Monday to enact "positive change" to prevent future shootings. While they have taken no official position on gun control -- and Sandy Hook Promise representatives were not immediately available for comment on Obama's speech -- members have listed policy change as one possible avenue.
"There are steps government can take. There are laws Congress can make," said co-founder Tom Bittman Monday. "But we have to fundamentally change our approach."
Reaction from CT Officials
Governor Dannel P. Malloy released the following statement:
“In the hours after the worst of our fears were confirmed, in the midst of the grief and sorrow over the loss of 20 innocent children and six dedicated educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there was one question on the minds of people across Connecticut and around the nation: How do we make sure this never happens again?
“Today the President took the critical first step toward answering that question. The common sense measures he proposed today are something that we should all be able to agree on, and I want to commend him and the Vice President for their work on this issue.
“I have no doubt that, state by state, we will deal with the issue of gun violence. Over the coming months, I will do everything in my power to make sure that Connecticut is a national leader in preventing gun violence. We will take steps to make sure that our gun laws are as tight as they are reasonable, that our mental health system is accessible to those that need it, and that our law enforcement personnel have all the tools they need to protect public safety, particularly in our schools.
“But we can’t go it alone. We need leadership at the federal level, and for the first time in a long time, we have it.
“We will not be able to stop gun violence completely, but we can make our country and our children safer. We owe it to them, and to all those lost in Sandy Hook, Aurora and every other city that has lost someone to gun violence, to try.”
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) released the following statement:
These are strong recommendations, and Congress should act on them now—before another mass tragedy occurs. If assault weapons and high capacity magazines were not so readily available, I am convinced there would be more little boys and girls alive in Newtown today. If background checks were universal, our city streets would be safer. There are no longer any excuses for inaction. If the horror of Sandy Hook doesn't move Congress to act on common sense gun laws, I have no idea what will. I’m so appreciative of the leadership of President Obama and Vice President Biden on this issue, especially their willingness to involve the Sandy Hook parents and families in this effort. Now, it’s time to get to work.