US President Barack Obama announced executive orders on Tuesday that aim to reduce gun-related violence by bolstering criminal background checks, mental health care and “smart gun technology.”
“This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns. You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm. The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules,” Obama said, referring to legal loopholes that allow people to sell guns without licenses.
One of the measures requires all gun sellers to register as such, and perform background checks on all American citizens wishing to purchase a firearm. If the dealer fails to do so, he or she could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 (232,000-euro) fine.
The move would effectively close the “gun show loophole” that allows dealers to sell weapons at firearms exhibitions without performing background checks.
Another measure aims to bolster mental health care, with Obama saying that two out of three gun-deaths in the US in the past decade have been linked to suicide.
The outgoing president, who had tears in his eye at one point, said that the executive orders would provide “significant” resources to preventing people with mental illnesses from acquiring a firearm.
Obama also said he directed the Pentagon, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to increase research on “smart gun technology” that would allow authorities to trace lost or stolen guns and reduce accidents.
He likened the technology to smartphones that require mobile users to place their thumbprint on a reader to access its content.
“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they can’t hold America hostage,” the Demcorat president said to an applauding crowd at the White House. Republicans currently control both houses of Congress, the US legislature.
However, Republican politicians were quick to respond to Obama’s latest bid to curb gun violence.
“Rather than focus on criminals and terrorist, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Conservative politicians allege that Obama has overstepped his executive powers by bypassing Congress and subverting the country’s constitution.
Executive orders allow a US president to bypass the legislature – facing heavy resistance, particularly in the lower chamber, the House, Obama has resorted to such measures fairly frequently since taking office. However, despite criticism for his reliance on the tool, his annual average of 33 executive orders falls short of all seven of his most recent predecessors, back to Richard Nixon.
More than 300,000 people have been killed in the US in the past 10 years in gun-related incidents, according the president.
ls/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)
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