(CBS NEWS) Setting the stage for what could be the most sweeping political battle over gun control in decades, President Obama today laid out a comprehensive package for reducing gun violence in America, a multi-part plan he says will not only "help prevent mass shootings" going forward but also "reduce the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country."
Speaking to an audience that included family members of those killed a month ago in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as children who wrote to Mr. Obama in the wake of recent episodes of mass violence, the president outlined a series of steps both political and administrative he says would limit access to guns and certain types of ammunition, make mental health care more attainable, and increase federal funds for both research and law enforcement.
Accompanied by Vice President Biden onstage, Mr. Obama acknowledged the difficulties of pursuing stricter legislation on gun laws, but said he would use "whatever weight this office holds" to achieve his agenda.
"Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there's even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try," he said. "This is our first task as a society: Keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change."
Among the initiatives outlined in Mr. Obama's plan include universal background checks for gun sales; the reinstatement and strengthening of the assault weapons ban; capping ammunition magazines to a 10-round limit; banning armor-piercing ammunition; providing schools with resource officers and school counselors; putting more police officers on the streets; creating serious punishments for gun trafficking, and ensuring that health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.
The president also outlined a series of 23 executive actions he can take without congressional approval, including measures aimed at making federal background check data widely available, accessible, and maximally effective; staying ahead of the curve on the newest gun safety measures; tracing seized guns and ensuring they don't go back into the hands of dangerous gun owners; making sure schools and other institutions are equipped and prepared for the possibility of shooter situations; aggressively prosecuting gun crime; and improving mental health resources and discourse. He signed directives enacting some of those directives immediately after his remarks.
But the president, making his case to Americans across the country, argued that substantive, wide-reaching change would not be possible without their help. He urged people who share his views to help him wage an uphill battle against the "pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyist" he said would be behind the scenes doing "everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever."
"I will put everything I've got into this -- and so will Joe -- but I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it," Mr. Obama said. "We're going to need voices in those areas and those congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong to speak up and to say this is important. It can't just be the usual suspects. We have to examine ourselves in our hearts, and ask yourselves what is important?"
Any effort on behalf of the White House to push new gun laws through Congress is sure to face immense opposition from the gun lobby, which has for years wielded its formidable financial and organizing power to prevent the passage of federal laws that would tighten restrictions on gun ownership. And groups like the National Rifle Association are clearly gearing up to fight the president's recommendations: Early this morning, before Mr. Obama had even unveiled his proposals, the group released an ad calling the president an "elitist hypocrite" because his daughters have Secret Service protection.
One of our local lawmakers expressed disappointment that the President signed those executive orders. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito said the American people want leaders in Washington to work together and this shows he is not willing to work with congress and state leaders to address the issue.
Capito released the following statement responding to President Obama’s recently proposed executive orders and legislation on gun control: “I will continue to consider ideas and proposals that address this issue in an inclusive manner, from the level of violence in the media to how we address mental illness in this country to gun laws.”
Senator Jay Rockefeller issued the following statement regarding the President’s plan to better protect innocent Americans from gun violence: “The President today announced a strong, comprehensive plan to protect our citizens from gun violence. In West Virginia, we have a proud tradition of hunting and understand the importance of the Second Amendment. We can protect those traditions and rights as we look at ways to prevent senseless acts of violence. "
Senator Manchin issued the following statement today in response to the White House proposals on mass violence: “I appreciate the work that went into the President’s recommendations. I have not had a chance to review them yet, because I have been meeting with West Virginians today to discuss school safety and the culture of mass violence that has permeated our society today. I will weigh each recommendation carefully. However, I am disappointed that the President did not recommend the creation of the national commission on mass violence that I have proposed."