President Barack Obama teared during a speech where he recalled the deaths of children in mass shootings in the United States, as he introduced new gun control measures on Tuesday.
Speaking to audience members, who included the parents of those children killed, the United States president called on the American people to “stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.”
“[All] of us need to stand up and protect its citizens, all of us need to demand governors and legislators and businesses do their part to make our communities safer,” he said. “We need the wide majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us every time this happens and feel like your views are not being properly represented to join with us to demand something better.”
With a reported 300 million firearms in circulation in the country, and in light of high profile mass shootings in recent times, Mr Obama spoke of the urgency of the measures.
Invoking the words of Dr Martin Luther King, the president said, “In Dr King’s words, we need to feel the fierce urgency of now, because people are dying.”
Mr Obama then spoke of the children who have been killed in the shootings, as he wiped away tears from his eyes.
“Our inalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown,” he said, his voice shaking. “First-graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”
Mark Barden, the father of Daniel, one of the 20 young children killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown three years ago, had introduced the president at the East Room.
As Mr Obama spoke, tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad and, by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day,” the president said.
Mr Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to work with him to introduce further measures to control the distribution and use of firearms, which is guaranteed under the country’s Second Amendment law. But Congress has blocked any such measures.
His critics have accused Mr Obama of trying to deny Americans’ rights to carry arms under that law. However, Mr Obama, who once taught constitutional law, dismissed the accusation.
He said: “I believe in the second amendment. It’s there written on the paper … No matter how much people try to twist my words … I taught constitutional law. I know a little bit about this. I get it.”
The new measures which he introduced included expanding background checks on online sellers and requiring gun shows to be licensed.
The country enters its presidential campaign proper next month, and Republican candidates have slammed Mr Obama’s latest action which by-passed Congress.
“Barack Obama is obsessed with undermining the second amendment,” Florida senator Marco Rubio said. “He is looking for any way possible to undermine it. He has been doing this forever. Now this executive order is just one more way to make it harder for law-abiding people to buy weapons or to be able to protect their families.”
However, Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton threw her support behind the president.
“Thank you, @POTUS, for taking a crucial step forward on gun violence,” she tweeted. “Our next president has to build on that progress – not rip it away.”
Americans’ obsession with the possession of guns was described as “exceptionally irrational” by professor at the University of Georgia, Cynthia Tucker, who is a also a recipient of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
She wrote in a piece in 2014: “We have let a blood-soaked gun lobby dictate our laws and regulations on firearms; we have passed “stand your ground” laws that allow violent and angry men to murder unarmed people; we have given the mentally unstable the ability to buy military-style assault weapons with which they wreak havoc on crowds. Last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law that would allow denizens of his state to carry firearms into government buildings, bars and, God help us, churches.”
Referring to how the gun lobby has successfully and continually stalled or even halted scientific research into the consequences of firearms possession, Ms Tucker said, “The gun lobby clearly fears that science will discover that guns are dangerous and that, well, more guns are more dangerous.”
“That’s just nuts, a reminder of our willingness to be exceptionally dumb about some things.”
In December, the former Australian deputy prime minister, Tim Fischer, called on his government to issue travel advisory to the US after the shootings in San Bernardino.
He said it was time to “call out” Washington on this.
“All [the shootings are] unacceptable because the US is not stepping up on the public policy reform front,” Mr Fischer said.
He was a prominent campaigner for gun law reforms in Australia which were later enacted by John Howard’s government following a 1996 mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania.
The Australian government banned gun ownership a mere three months after the incident, and bought back more than 600,000 firearms from gun owners.
Some have used Australia’s example to urge the US to do the same.
“Yes, the gun lobby is loud and it is organised in defence of making it effortless for guns to be available for anybody any time,” Mr Obama said on Tuesday. “But you know what, the rest of us, we all have to be just as passionate, we have to be just as organised in defence of our kids. This is not that complicated.”
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