President Obama on Tuesday announced highly anticipated and equally divisive executive orders to amp gun control and reduce firearms-related deaths, including new government research into technology designed to digitally lock and track guns.
“Every single year more than 30,000 have their lives cut short by guns,” the president said during a televised speech at the White House Tuesday. “The United States of America is not the the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people. We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency.”
The major tenets of the White House plan, enacted after three years of Republican-blocked attempts to enact legislation in Congress, focus on expanding background checks online and at gun shows, investing $500 million into mental health treatment, updating the background check process, giving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI more authority and personnel to police gun sales and require anyone selling firearms to register with the federal government.
“So the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage,” Obama said. “We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom.”
On the technical side, the orders instruct the Justice, Homeland Security and Defense Departments to “conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology that would reduce the frequency of accidental discharge or unauthorized use of firearms.”
“The president has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety,” the administration said in a White House blog post.
All three department secretaries have until April to report back to the administration with a “strategy designed to expedite the real-world deployment of such technology.”
“We’re going to boost gun safety technology,” Obama said. “Today, many gun injuries and deaths are the result of legal guns that were stolen or misused or discharged accidentally.”
The president said in 2013 alone, more than 500 people were killed as a result of accidental gun discharges, including 30 children under the age of five.
“In the greatest, most technologically advanced nation on Earth, there is no reason for this,” he continued. “We need to develop new technologies that make guns safer. If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?”
“If there’s an app that can help us find a missing tablet — which happens to me often the older I get — if we can do it for your iPad, there’s no reason we can’t do it with a stolen gun. If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun.”
While much of the technology the president described has already been developed at least in concept — including fingerprint readers on gun lock boxes, GPS chips and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags in gun frames capable of tracking a weapon’s location and how it’s used — gun rights advocates claim such technology will inevitably slow a gun owners’ ability to access their weapons in emergencies.
“So we’re going to advance research,” Obama said. “We’re going to work with the private sector to update firearms technology.”
Republicans in Congress including House Speaker Paul Ryan wasted no time criticizing the president’s orders as gross executive overreach, and said the regulations will face challenges in the courts.
“From day one, the president has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding. He knows full well that the law already says that people who make their living selling firearms must be licensed, regardless of venue,” Ryan said in a statement Tuesday. “Still, rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”
Ryan added Congress would do its part to challenge the orders.
“No matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment. We will conduct vigilant oversight,” the speaker said. “Ultimately, everything the president has done can be overturned by a Republican president, which is another reason we must win in November.”