WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday will introduce a raft of executive actions to tackle U.S. gun violence, bypassing Congress and its staunch opposition to gun control.
Kicking off his last year in the White House with a show of executive power that is replete with political and legal risk, Obama will take a series of unilateral steps to end what he has called “the scourge of gun violence.”
Obama is scheduled to unveil the measures in the East Room of the White House, his adminstration said in a statement Monday.
Speaking ahead of the announcement, Obama used Oval Office remarks to decry high rates of mass shootings and gun suicide in the U.S. that far exceed levels in other countries.
“We have tens of thousands of people every single year who are killed by guns,” he said.
Obama indicated the proposals — presented to him by Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the White House — will focus on regulating gun sales and curbing illegal purchases.
Aides say that could include tightening rules on gun dealers, broadening background checks to more buyers and cracking down on “straw purchases” in which potentially suspect individuals buy guns through an intermediary.
The measures will stop short of registering or collecting some of the more than 300 million guns already thought to be in circulation in the United States, a move gun control advocates say is essential.
Obama admitted the measures were “not going to solve every violent crime in this country. It’s not going to prevent every mass shooting. It’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal.”
“It will,” he said, “potentially, save lives in this country” and spare families heartache.
During Obama’s seven years as president, mass shootings have killed Connecticut schoolchildren, South Carolina churchgoers and Colorado movie watchers. Deaths from gun violence, many of them suicides, average 30,000 per year in the U.S.
Polls had shown most people in the United States back tougher gun laws. But that support has ebbed recently amid concerns about the Islamic State group and a perceived wider threat from terrorism.
Obama’s move could put pressure on some of his Democratic allies who face tough election battles in toss-up states and conservative congressional districts this autumn.
On Thursday, Obama will take part in a primetime town-hall style debate on gun control to try to boost his case. The event, broadcast by CNN, will take place at George Mason University in Fairfax, in northern Virginia.
‘Scrubbing the law’
In a New Year’s address to the nation, Obama voiced his determination to tackle what he called the “unfinished business” of curbing gun violence. But Obama’s decision to bypass Congress sets up a political and legal fight for the coming election year.
The Republican-controlled body has already rejected measures to curb the sale of military-style semi-automatic rifles.
The speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, on Monday accused Obama of “dismissiveness” toward Americans who value the constitutional right to bear arms.
“We all are pained by the recent atrocities in our country, but no change the president is reportedly considering would have prevented them,” Ryan said. “We have seen consistently that an underlying cause of these attacks has been mental illness.”
“This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it,” Ryan warned.
By using the last resort of executive action, Obama is inviting legal challenges alongside the predictable political opprobrium.
His lawyers have spent months “scrubbing” existing laws to see where rules could be tightened and loopholes closed, while surviving inevitable court challenges.
“A lot of the work that has gone on behind the scenes to take a look at what the president can do using his executive authority has been grounded in the knowledge that the gun lobby and the Republicans in Congress who regularly do their bidding are going to look for ways to try to stop it,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Obama insisted the measures would fall “well within my legal authority.”
Similar executive efforts by Obama to bring millions of illegal immigrants out of the shadows by shielding them from deportation have prompted a slew of lawsuits and left a key Obama policy goal in the hands of the Supreme Court.