US President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious plan to expand background checks for buyers of firearms and increase funding for mental health treatment and law enforcement agencies.
The gun lobby can hold Congress hostage but not the country, Obama said announcing the new plan, which is intended to bring down gun violence that has killed more than 150,000 people since 2001.
“We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of our freedom,” he added, flanked by vice-president Joe Biden and relatives of those killed in gun violence, including the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), which heads the gun lobby, said these expanded checks “will do nothing to improve public safety”. And some Republicans running for the White House have already said they will tear up the plan on their first day in the White House.
The plan proposes to plug a loophole in the current law that allows gun shows and fairs and online sellers to sell to buyers without adequate background checks.
Every seller will also have to be licensed now.
Extra resources will be provided, under the plan, to law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the ATF to enforce these new guidelines expanding background checks.
The Obama administration also proposes investing $500 million on mental health treatment, which, experts pointed out, was an attempt to address the gun lobby’s pet argument against control.
They argue that guns don’t kill people. Most mass murders, including Newtown killer Adam Lanza and Tucson gunman Jared Lee Loughner, they argue, were mentally ill.
Gun control remains a bitterly contested issue, though, despite the massacre of 20 first-graders and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
An attempt to expand background checks failed in 2013, in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, in Congress because of NRA’s fierce pushback.
Obama is using his presidential powers this time, saying it is well within his constitutional authority, and that it will withstand any legal scrutiny and challenge.