Responding to the Newtown massacre, President Obama Wednesday proposed a $500 million plan to address gun violence, including a federal assault weapons ban, background checks for all firearms sales and increased security and mental health counselors at schools.
The White House is seeking quick action on the initiative, which was crafted after Vice President Biden met with dozens of groups about how to respond to the Newtown tragedy and a series of other violent attacks in recent years.
The press conference opened with Vice President Biden telling Newtown parents in the audience that "you showed incredible courage being here." Sandy Hook parents Chris and Lynn McDonnell were in the front row. Their daughter Grace died in the Dec. 14 attack.
Obama said a painting by Grace hangs in his private study. "Every time I look at that painting I think about Grace. I think about the life that she lived and the life that she had ahead of her… We must act now for Grace."
"We can't put this off any longer," Obama said, noting that in the month since Newtown "more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun. Every day we wait that number will keep growing."
Citing former President Ronald Reagan Obama said he wanted Congress to move quickly to address "an epidemic of violence."
"If there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we have an obligation to try. I am going to do my part."
"Congress too must act. And Congress must act soon. I am calling on Congress to pass some very specific proposals right away."
The Obama plan emphasizes closing loopholes in background checks and a ban on "military-style assault weapons" and high-capacity ammunition clips – both expected to be controversial proposals. Obama's proposal also includes 23 immediate "executive actions" to tighten gun laws and provide more resources for law enforcement and schools.
"We need to do more to prevent easy access to instruments of violence,'' a White House summary of the president's proposal states. "We also need to provide law enforcement with additional tools to prevent gun violence, end the freeze on gun violence research, make sure health providers know they can report credible threats of violence and talk to their patients about gun safety, and promote responsible gun ownership."
The much-anticipated announcement is expected to launch a bitter national debate on gun control that will put the Newtown tragedy at the center of the discussion. A National Rifle Association ad that began airing Tuesday mocks Obama for seeking new gun controls while his family is protecting by heavily-armed security.
The audience at today's White House announcement by President Obama included children who wrote to the president after the Newtown massacre.
The White House will also seek new federal gun trafficking laws, including increasing penalties for "straw purchasers" who buy guns for criminals.
Obama's push for a renewed and strengthened assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, would limit magazines to a 10-round capacity. He would seek to improve enforcement efforts as well, requiring law enforcement to trace firearms recovered in criminal investigations.
Obama also said he would nominate a director the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) in an effort to make the agency—which has not had a permanent director in six years—more effective. In addition to the assault weapons ban he'll aim to crack down on illegal activity by proposing new gun trafficking laws to Congress. The Administration wants to improve law enforcement efforts as well with a $4 billion plan to keep 15,000 cops on the street.
Obama is also seeking to provide $150 million so schools can add up to 1,000 more school resource offices and counselors, psychologists and social workers.
Through executive action, Obama also will create a model emergency response plan for places targeted in mass shootings, like schools, universities, and places of worship. He will also propose strategies to reduce problem behaviors in schools like bullying, drug abuse, and violence.
Relatives of victims of the Newtown school attack were also at today's announcement, as well as Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who were there. Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llondra was also expected. Family members of Victoria Soto, a teacher who died in the Sandy Hook attack, were also in the audience.
Llodra spoke at a press conference outside the White House after the event, said "members of a reasonable society" must not forget Newtown.
Biden and Obama claimed "that our world has changed because of what happened at Sandy Hook school, that our consciousness has been raised, that we have a culture of violence, that we have an obligation to address," she said, wearing a green ribbon, a symbol of the Sandy Hook shooting, on her lapel.
"If that is so, then change will take place. I would hate to find myself a year or two or three from now reading about another event, when we have fallen back to that sense, that lethargy, that we can't do anything because we don't have the will. I truly believe that the will of the people can make a difference," she said.
Obama said that he has heard from people all over the country since the Newtown tragedy, but none of the comments "have affected us more than the families of the gorgeous children" who died at Sandy Hook.
A report from the Tribune's Washington bureau was included in this story.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun