US President Barack Obama is to meet with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to discuss what he can do to curb gun violence, sidestepping an entrenched US Congress.
In his first weekly radio address of the new year on Friday, Obama said he would talk to Lynch after a months-long examination of the measures he can take on his own to halt what he called “our epidemic of gun violence.”
Recalling the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people — 20 of them children — and left many grimly hopeful it would lead to an overhaul of in the nation’s gun laws, the president accused lawmakers of bowing to the gun lobby and blocking change.
“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,” Obama said. “Yet Congress still hasn’t done anything to prevent what happened to them from happening to other families.”
The speech was an explicit return to a theme that Obama has played down in the wake of terrorist attacks that killed 130 people on Nov. 13 in Paris and 14 people on Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, California, both of which were inspired by Muslim extremism.
While Obama’s initial response to the San Bernardino attacks emphasized its commonality with other mass shootings and the need for gun restrictions, Obama’s administration soon realized that this message was failing to reassure the US public that he was taking the threat from Muslim extremism and the Islamic State group seriously enough.
So through much of last month, Obama engaged in public events aimed at convincing the US public that his administration was doing everything it could to battle the Islamic State group. For some US citizens, being vigilant against Muslin extremism involves having more guns — not fewer — and sales of guns surged in the wake of the San Bernardino attack.
The administration sees such a response as counterproductive not only because the number of deaths from gun suicides and routine shootings is far greater than those from terrorist attacks, but also because the availability of weapons here makes such attacks far easier to conduct.
Rather than fight both the anxiety about Muslim extremism and the need for more gun restrictions at the same time, Obama focused on calming the nation.
Now, a month after the San Bernardino attacks, Obama has decided that he can return to his focus on gun measures.
“Because I get too many letters from parents, and teachers, and kids, to sit around and do nothing,” Obama said in his speech Friday.
A bipartisan effort in 2013 to bolster gun control measures after the Newtown shooting was halted in the US Senate, failing to garner the 60 votes needed to expand background checks and to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Facing the reality that lawmakers are unlikely to strengthen the nation’s gun laws anytime soon, the administration has been looking at ways Obama can tighten gun sales unilaterally, focusing in particular on who could be considered a high-volume dealer for an executive action that could expand background checks.
However, White House officials have said there are many political and legal challenges to doing so, potentially opening up Obama to renewed criticism that he is abusing his authority.
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