Editor’s note: Story updated to add comments from U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R).
An executive order that supporters say will stem gun violence in the country was characterized Tuesday by members of the state’s congressional delegation as a power grab.
In a speech at the White House on Tuesday (Jan. 5), President Barack Obama (D) said the issue was about protecting people in a violent world.
“Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns. Thirty thousand. Suicides, domestic violence, gang shootouts, accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters or buried their own children,” Obama said in the speech.
At one point the President became tearful when talking about the children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school. He said every time he thinks about the first graders and other students murdered “it gets me mad.” He then quickly noted that murders of children also happen on the streets of Chicago “every day.”
A White House statement was critical of Congress for not doing more with respect to gun safety, thereby forcing the President to act.
“Too many communities across the country are still suffering from the heartbreaking consequences of a gun in the wrong hands. In the past decade, more than 100,000 people have died as a result of gun violence. Many of these crimes were committed by people who never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place,” noted the statement. “Sympathy is not enough to stop gun violence. Congress has repeatedly failed to take action, blocking commonsense reforms supported by the vast majority of the American people – including gun owners themselves.”
President Obama’s order includes the following actions.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is finalizing a rule to require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust, corporation, or other legal entity.
• The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient. The envisioned improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun. The FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners and other staff to help process these background checks.
• The President’s fiscal year 2017 budget will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws.
• The President n is proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care.
• The President has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.
Link here for a more detailed narrative on the President’s plan.
ARKANSAS LAWMAKER REACTION
It didn’t take long for members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation – all Republicans – to react. U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., countered the President’s claim that Congress has done nothing to push back against gun violence.
“The Senate has attempted to take real action to reduce gun violence by considering measures that would prevent terrorists from obtaining firearms, incentivize states to provide mental health records for background checks, and criminalize straw purchasing and weapons trafficking in a responsible way. Unfortunately, the President’s own party blocked these real common sense measures from moving forward in the Senate,” Boozman said in a statement.
Arkansas’ senior Senator also called Obama’s orders “window dressing.”
“What he calls ‘common sense’ steps to reduce gun violence will do little to curb violent crime and certainly would not have prevented a single one of the tragic mass shootings our nation has recently endured,” Boozman noted. “If the President wanted to take a serious approach to reducing violent crime, he would work with Congress to pass real mental health reform and violent crime reduction initiatives and he would instruct the Justice Department to do more to enforce the laws already on the books. Last year, federal prosecutors brought 25 percent fewer gun cases up for prosecution than they did during the final year of George W. Bush’s Administration.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, accused the President of misleading the public on the issue.
“I wish I could say that I was surprised by the President’s latest announcement to skirt Congress in order to push through his gun control agenda,” Womack said in a statement. “President Obama continues to reference false, misleading statistics to justify infringing upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, and while I do believe that there are merits to addressing mental health and discussing ways to make our country safer, the proposals I have seen so far from this President do not get to the root of the problem.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, said his concern is about protecting constitutional principles.
“We all value the safety of our communities and children above all else, but by focusing his unilateral efforts on personal collectors and hobbyists, the President’s proposal incorrectly targets compliant and lawful sellers instead of focusing on the consistent causes of recent atrocities. Lacking widespread support for his initiatives that restrict American’s 2nd amendment rights, the President has attempted to circumvent Congress, again,” Crawford said. “As we continue to review the details of this most recent executive order, I will be joining my colleagues in order to preserve the full rights of Arkansas’ gun owners and sellers, despite misguided attempts to inhibit them.”
The constitutional concern was also raised by U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs.
“President Obama’s executive orders will not stop gun violence but will infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens to sell and purchase firearms,” Westerman said. “His latest unconstitutional executive orders are simply his newest political power play. Ironically, these out-of-touch orders will boost gun and ammunition sales as Americans react to an overreaching administration bent on restricting our freedoms. We need a president focused on constructive solutions to America’s real issues such as national security and our crippling debt that has skyrocketed during President Barack Obama’s tenure.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Obama’s order seeks to intimidate those who lawfully acquire and use guns.
“The executive actions the president announced today trample the Constitution and undermine our unalienable right to bear arms. They purposely seek to blur legal lines and intimidate individuals from exercising their right to buy or sell a firearm. Criminals or other mentally ill individuals who wish to inflict harm with guns will not be deterred by speeches or presidential memos – and the president shouldn’t punish law-abiding citizens in an attempt to prove they will,” Cotton said. “Today, President Obama has once again chosen to bypass Congress and instead use executive fiat to force his own agenda on the American people. Rest assured, Congress won’t be ignored and I am committed to protecting your Second Amendment rights.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), a former Congressman, former administrator of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and former Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, also panned the President’s move.
“On the issue of violent attacks from armed gunmen, my background has allowed me the opportunity to examine closely this issue from every side and I disagree with the President’s approach. Today, the President reinforced what we’ve come to expect: he would rather circumvent the American people, Congress and the Constitution in an effort to accomplish his agenda. The actions outlined in his executive order are largely the same new restrictions that Congress has already rejected,” Hutchinson noted in a statement.
Hutchinson also challenged the President to do more to respond to ISIS and other terror threats.