WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama made fighting gun violence his chief resolution for 2016 in a New Year’s Day address, calling it a major piece of “unfinished business” for his White House administration.
The US leader announced he would meet with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday, his first day back at work after the year-end break, “to discuss our options” in reducing the toll of deaths and injuries from firearms.
As he marked the start of his final year as president, Obama expressed regret at the little progress made in the past seven years towards remedying the firearm “epidemic” that claims more than 30,000 lives in America each year, over half of them suicides.
“My New Year’s resolution is to move forward on our unfinished business as much as I can,” he said.
“That’s especially true for one piece of unfinished business, that’s our epidemic of gun violence.”
With time running out on his presidency, and with little prospect of reaching common ground with Congress on the highly contentious guns issue, Obama is expected to resort to the use of executive powers that would allow him to unilaterally impose certain new anti-gun measures.
The United States is one of the most gun-loving countries in the world, with more guns than inhabitants, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
In his New Year’s address, the president said measures to be discussed with Lynch will focus on “keeping an irresponsible, dangerous few from inflicting harm on a massive scale.”
According to CNN and the New York Times, which cited gun control advocates familiar with the administration’s plans, Obama is expected to announce executive action to expand background checks on gun sales before his State of the Union address on January 12.
Reports said the measures imposed by the president could include tighter restrictions on reporting guns lost or stolen in transport, as well new licensing restrictions on small gun sellers.
‘Every single day’
Obama is taking the action against the backdrop of a relentless succession of shootings, which cast him each time in the role of “consoler-in-chief” to a grieving nation.
The president has made increasingly plain his frustration at the bloodshed, faulting Congress for its lack of action to curb gun violence.
“Last month, we remembered the third anniversary of Newtown,” Obama said in his address, referring to a December 2012 mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 young children and six adults dead.
“This Friday, I’ll be thinking about my friend Gabby Giffords, five years into her recovery from the shooting in Tucson,” he said, speaking of a former US congresswoman and victim of another of the nation’s spasms of gun violence.
“All across America, survivors of gun violence and those who lost a child, a parent, a spouse to gun violence are forced to mark such awful anniversaries every single day, and yet Congress still hasn’t done anything to prevent what happened to them from happening to other families,” the president said.
“Three years ago, a bipartisan, commonsense bill would have required background checks for virtually everyone who buys a gun,” he said, recalling that such a measure— ultimately blocked in the Senate—had the support of the vast majority of the American public, including gun owners.
“Since then, tens of thousands of our fellow Americans have been mowed down by gun violence. Tens of thousands,” Obama said.
The issue of gun control has polarized the US legislature and divided the nation, with Americans holding radically different views on the pros and cons of gun ownership.
The depth of the schism could be seen in new laws that went into effect on Friday in Republican-red Texas and its political polar opposite states of California and Oregon.
The new gun law in California would make it easier for courts to seize the firearms of people deemed to present a danger to themselves or others.
In its west coast neighbor, the liberal state of Oregon, a measure took effect barring anyone convicted of certain domestic abuse offenses from having guns or ammunition.
Gun-friendly Texas, meanwhile, on Friday introduced an “open carry” law meaning gun owners no longer will be required to conceal their weapons when packing heat.