How can America stop gun violence
Speech by US President Barack Obama on measures to reduce gun violence in the USA on January 5, 2016
Many Thanks. Please take a seat. Many many thanks.
Mark, thank you for your introduction. I still remember our first meeting, the time we spent together and our conversation about Daniel. That day changed me. And I sincerely hoped that it would change the whole country too.
This week, it's five years since a congressman and 18 other people were shot at outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. It wasn't the first time I've had to turn to the nation after a rampage, and it shouldn't be the last. Fort Hood. Binghamton. Aurora. Oak Creek. Newtown. The naval base. Santa Barbara. Charleston. San Bernardino. Too many.
It is thanks to a great medical team and the love of her husband Mark that my dear friend and colleague Gabby Giffords survived. She is here today with her wonderful mother. Yes, thanks to the great medical team and her wonderful husband Mark, whose twin brother, on the edge, notes, as you may know, is in space. When he was in my office, I asked him “How often do you talk to him?” And he said, “Usually every day, but now he called here just before our meeting, so I didn't answer.” I did felt a little bad about it. That was a long distance call. So I told him if his brother Scott called again today, he should answer it. Turn the phone on loud.
I was with Gabby when she was still in the hospital and we weren't sure if she would survive. This visit took place just before the memorial service, and about an hour later Gabby opened her eyes. I remember talking to her mother. I can imagine how she and her family have suffered over the past five years, experienced rehab, and how difficult it must be to recover from such serious injuries.
And then I think of all the Americans who were less fortunate. Every single year, guns end the lives of more than 30,000 Americans prematurely. 30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang wars. Accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters or buried their own children. Many have had to learn to live with a disability or without the love of their life.
Some of them are here today. They can tell you some stories. There is a lot to talk about in this room. There is great suffering here. There is stamina and strength here, but also a lot of pain. And this is just a small selection.
The United States of America isn't the only country in the world with violent or dangerous people. We are not naturally more violent than others. But we are the only progressive country in the world where this type of mass violence occurs so frequently. In other advanced countries this doesn't happen nearly as often. And as I said before, we are kind of jaded and now consider this to be normal.
And instead of thinking about how we can solve this problem, it has turned into one of our most polarizing and politically instrumentalized debates - although there is actually a general consensus in the United States about what to do. For this reason, too, I'll be talking about gun violence on Thursday in Virginia. My aim is to bring sensible people from both political camps together for an open discussion on the subject.
I cannot be elected again. I'm not trying to score. In my opinion, we can disagree without doubting each other's motivations or being unfriendly to one another. We don't have to talk past each other. But we have to be aware of the urgency of the issue. To speak to Martin Luther King, we must feel the "relentless urgency of the moment." Because people die. And the constant excuses for our inaction are no longer sufficient.
That's why we're here today. Not to discuss the last mass shooting, but to prevent the next one as much as possible. To prove that the vast majority of Americans, even if our voices aren't always the loudest and most extreme, care enough about a little boy like Daniel to sit down and take sensible action to save lives and ours Protecting children better.
Right at the beginning I would like to say unequivocally - and I have already said this repeatedly, that this has also become routine, what I have to do is almost ritual: I believe in the second amendment to the constitution. It is recorded in writing on paper. He guarantees the right to bear arms. And no matter how often you try to turn the word around in my mouth - I taught constitutional law, I understand a little bit about it - I get it. But I also believe that we can find ways to curb armed violence that are consistent with the second amendment.
Just think about it. We all believe in the first amendment to the constitution, freedom of expression, but we also know that in a theater you don't just shout "fire". We understand that some of our freedoms are restricted to protect the innocent. We value our right to privacy, but we accept that we have to go through metal detectors before getting on a plane. We don't do this because we think it's great, but because we know that it's the price we have to pay if we want to live in a civilized society.
Often overlooked in this debate is the fact that the majority of gun owners agree. The majority of gun owners believe that we can respect the second amendment while preventing the few irresponsible people who disobey the law from causing great harm.
Today gun shops have to check out buyers. If a father wants to teach his daughter how to hunt, he can go to a gun shop, get checked, and purchase a gun safely and responsibly. This is not a violation of the second amendment to the constitution. Contrary to claims made by some gun rights advocates, this is not the first step that will inevitably lead to the mass confiscation of guns. Contrary to what some presidential candidates appear to have claimed before this meeting, it is not a conspiracy to take arms from everyone. If your review is positive, you can purchase a firearm.
The problem is that some arms dealers play by different rules. A violent criminal can buy guns online without being checked or asked questions. A recent study found that around one in 30 people who looked up gun purchases from a particular website had a criminal record. Every 30th had a criminal record. We are talking about people convicted of serious crimes - grievous bodily harm, domestic violence, robbery and illegal gun possession. It is far too easy for people with a long criminal record to get hold of deadly weapons. And here we are only talking about a website in the period of a few months.
So we have created a system in which dangerous people are allowed to play by different rules than responsible gun owners who properly acquire their gun and undergo an inspection. That does not make sense. The same rules should apply to everyone. Most Americans and gun owners agree. Three years ago, after 26 Americans, including 20 children, were killed in Sandy Hook Elementary School, we tried to change that.
Two US Senators, Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, Republican from Pennsylvania, both gun owners, both strong supporters of the rights under the Second Amendment, both rated 1 by the NRA for their voting behavior on gun laws - which is not so easy at all - have worked together in good faith and, among other things, took advice from our Vice-President, who has long been committed to this cause, in order to work out a reasonable compromise for a draft law that provides that practically everyone who buys a weapon that needs to be checked beforehand. Nothing else. Actually a matter of common sense. 90 percent of Americans support this idea. 90 percent of the Senate Democrats voted in favor. But it failed because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against it.
How is it that this topic is instrumentalized in such a way by party politics? Republican President George W. Bush once said, "I'm in favor of inspections at gun fairs and elsewhere to make sure guns don't get into the hands of people who shouldn't have guns." Senator John McCain has proposed a non-partisan move to close the legal loophole at arms fairs. He said, "We need this change in the law because criminals and terrorists are taking advantage of this very obvious loophole in our gun safety laws." Even the NRA supported the expanded reviews. Most of its members still do that, by the way. So did most of the Republican voters.
What happened? How did it come about that people now think that an extended check means that their weapons will be taken away from them?
Every time we talk about it, we are fobbed off with the excuse that sensible reforms like buyer reviews might not have prevented the latest massacre, nor the previous one, so why should we even try? I defend myself against this way of thinking. We know that we cannot prevent every act of violence, every vile act. But maybe we could try to prevent an act of violence, an evil act.
Some of you may remember that at the time of the Sandy Hook rampage, a confused person in China tried to murder a group of children with a knife. Most survived, however, because this man did not have access to a more dangerous weapon. We may not save everyone, but we could save some. We cannot prevent all traffic accidents either, but we are still doing something to reduce the number of accidents.
Ronald Reagan once said that if mandatory screening could save more lives, "it would be worthwhile to legislate." This would have been possible with the bill that was before Congress three years ago. Unfortunately, too many senators failed to meet their responsibilities.
We know reviews make a difference. After Connecticut legislated audits and gun safety courses, gun deaths fell 40 percent. 40 percent. Meanwhile, the number of gun fatalities in Missouri is nearly 50 percent above the national average since the state repealed a law that required extensive reviews and purchase permits. According to a study, criminals in Missouri now have easier access to guns.
The results show that law-abiding Americans don't have a harder time buying guns in states with mandatory screening. Their weapons have not been confiscated. Your rights have not been violated.
And that's just the information we have access to. With more research, we could improve gun safety even further, just as we have been able to reduce the number of road casualties enormously through more research over the past 30 years. We do research when vehicles, food, medicines, and even toys harm people so we can make them safer. And guess what? Research, science, these are good things. They work. Really.
And then think about the following. Indeed, with one deadly weapon - no one claims firearms are just potentially lethal - with guns that kill tens of thousands of Americans each year, Congress has made it harder for state health professionals to investigate, collect data, and strategize about gun violence Develop a reduction in gun violence. Even after San Bernardino, Congress refused to make it more difficult for terrorism suspects who are not even allowed to board a plane to acquire semi-automatic weapons. That is not right. This can not be right.
The gun lobby may hold Congress hostage right now, but it can't hold all of America hostage. We do not have to accept this slaughter as a price for freedom.
I want to be very clear: Congress must act. The people in this room won't rest until he does. If Congress stands behind sensible weapons security measures, we can significantly reduce the violence. But we can't wait with that. Until we have a Congress that shares the opinion of a majority of Americans, we can, within my legal authority, take action to reduce gun violence and save more lives - measures to protect our rights and our children.
After Sandy Hook, Joe and I worked with our teams and put forward a whole series of executive measures in an attempt to tighten the rules and systems that were already in place. But today we want to go one step further. So I'll briefly outline what we're up to.
First of all, everyone who sells firearms has to acquire a license and carry out inspections, otherwise it will be prosecuted. It does not matter whether the trade is carried out over the Internet or at an arms fair. It's not about the place, it's about the thing.
In addition, we will expand security screening to include violent criminals who attempt to acquire dangerous firearms by hiding behind large corporations, organizations, or middlemen.
We are also taking steps to make the review system more efficient. Led by Jim Comey and the FBI, and Tom Brandon, Assistant Director of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - ATF), we will hire more staff to process applications more quickly and adapt the outdated review system to the needs of the 21st century.
These steps will make it smoother for law-abiding gun owners and responsible gun dealers, and strengthen the process in protecting the people, the public, from dangerous individuals. That's point one.
Second, we will do everything in our power to ensure wise and effective enforcement of existing gun laws, which means the ATF will recruit 200 more officers and investigators. Firearms dealers will in future be obliged to report lost or stolen weapons within a certain period of time. We work with activists who are committed to protecting victims of domestic abuse from gun violence, because far too often these people do not receive adequate protection.
Third, we will do more to give people with mental illness the treatment they need. Rampages that get a lot of publicity often draw attention to the few mentally unstable people who harm others. The fact is, however, that almost two thirds of all gun deaths are suicides. So a large part of our work is to save people from harming themselves.
That is why we have made sure that treatment of mental illness is covered under the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as is treatment of any other illness. We will be investing $ 500 million to expand access to treatment options across the country.
Therefore, we will also ensure the inclusion of federal health records on mental illness in the review system and remove barriers to state reporting of relevant information.If we can no longer stigmatize mental illness, get the right treatment for sick people, and fill the gaps in review, we can save more families the pain of losing a loved one to suicide.
To those in Congress who are so quick to use mental illness as an explanation for rampage in order to prevent stricter gun laws, I say: Now is your opportunity to support these efforts. Put words into action.
Fourth, we will promote technologies to improve the safety of weapons. Today gunshot wounds and deaths are caused by guns that were legally acquired but then stolen, misused or lost. In 2013 alone, over 500 people lost their lives in gun accidents - including 30 children under the age of five. In the largest, most technologically advanced country in the world, there is no justification for this. We have to develop new technologies that make weapons safer. If you can prevent a phone from being unlocked as long as you don't have the correct fingerprint, why can't we develop that for guns too? If there is an app that helps us to find our misplaced tablet - which happens to me more and more the older I get - if you can do it for the iPad, why shouldn't it also work with stolen weapons? If there is parental control for aspirin, then we should make sure that children cannot trigger guns either. Correct?
We will therefore advance research. We will work with business to bring firearms technology up to date.
Some arms dealers are already responding by refusing to make purchases until the review is fully completed or by refraining from selling semi-automatic weapons or large capacity magazines. And I hope more retailers and manufacturers will join them - because they should, like everyone else, be concerned about a product that kills nearly as many Americans today as it does in car accidents.
I say this because none of us can do this on our own. I think Mark mentioned that earlier, too. We should be able to work together to strike a balance between our rights, which says the rights of the second amendment are important, but there are other rights that we also care about. We have to find that balance. For our right to exercise our faith freely and safely has been denied to Christians in Charleston. It was banned from Jews in Kansas City. It was denied to Muslims in Chapel Hill and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They too had rights.
Our right to peaceful assembly - that right has been robbed of cinema-goers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our inalienable right to life, freedom, and happiness has been stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, as well as from high school students in Columbine and first years in Newtown. First graders. And beyond that, any family who never believed that a loved one would be wiped out of their lives by a bullet from a gun.
Every time I think of these children I get angry. By the way, this happens every day on the streets of Chicago.
So we must all ask Congress to have the courage to confront the lies of the gun lobby. We all need to stand up and protect our citizens. We all need to urge governors, lawmakers, and corporations to do their part to make our communities safer. We need the vast majority of responsible gun owners, who mourn with us whenever something like this happens and feel underrepresented, on our side when we ask for improvements.
And voters who want safer gun laws and are disappointed with the politicians who block them will have to remember this in the next election.
Basically, that's a very simple calculation. Yes, the gun lobby is fighting loudly and organizing to make guns available to everyone at all times. And I'm telling you, we just have to fight just as passionately as they are. We need to be just as organized to defend our children. It's not that complicated. Congressmen block laws because they want to win elections. If you make it hard for them to win an election as long as they block these laws, then they will change course, I promise you.
Yes, it will be difficult and it will not happen overnight. It won't happen with this Congress. It won't happen during my presidency. But many things don't happen overnight. Women's suffrage was not introduced overnight. The liberation of African Americans did not happen overnight. The rights of LGBT people have been hard earned over decades. But that it was difficult is no justification for not trying.
And if you have any doubt as to why you should feel the "relentless urgency of the moment," think about what happened three weeks ago. Zaevion Dobson was a tenth grader at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. He played football and was popular with his classmates and teachers. The mayor described it as one of his city's success stories. The week before Christmas he went to a friend's house to play video games. He wasn't in the wrong place at the wrong time. He hadn't made a wrong decision. He was just where any other youngster could have been. Her child. My children. And then armed men opened fire. And Zaevion - who was still in high school and whose life hadn't even started properly - threw himself on three girls to protect them from the bullets. He was hit in the head. And the girls were spared. He sacrificed his life to save her life. A heroic act that is much more than you should ever expect from a 15 year old. "Nobody has greater love than that one surrenders his soul for the benefit of his friends."
Nobody is asking us to do what Zaevion Dobson did. Nobody asks us to have such broad shoulders, such a big heart, such good responsiveness. I am not asking anyone to have the same courage, to make the same sacrifice, or to carry the same amount of love. But if we love our children and are concerned about their future, if we love this country and care about its future, then we can have the courage to choose. We can muster the courage to mobilize and organize. We can find the courage to ignore the sidelines and do what any sane country would.
We do that today. We should do more tomorrow. And even more the day after. If we do that, we will leave a land stronger than the land we were left with and worthy of the sacrifice of a young man like Zaevion.
I thank all of you. May God bless you. Many Thanks. May God bless America.
Original text: Remarks by the President on Common-Sense Gun Safety Reform
From US Embassy | January 7, 2016 | Categories: President Barack Obama, Speeches
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