President Barack Obama tearfully announced a series of executive actions Tuesday aimed at reducing gun violence, offering a rebuttal to his critics by citing law and personal pain.
Speaking from the White House, the president explained those actions — which he said Monday are "well within" his legal authority. Obama spent much of the announcement addressing concerns that he was heading down a slippery slope of restricting Americans' freedoms.
"We're here today not to debate the last mass shooting, but to do something to try to prevent the next one," he said. "We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom."
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will now require that people who sell guns at stores, at gun shows or over the Internet be licensed and conduct checks, the White House said in a fact sheet released Monday night. The ATF also was finalizing a rule requiring background checks for buyers of dangerous weapons from a trust, corporation or other legal entity.
Obama compared his push for gun control to the struggle for women's suffrage, the civil rights battles and the "decades worth of work" that went into the gay rights fight.
"Yes it will be hard, and it won't happen overnight. It won't happen with this Congress, it won't happen during my presidency," he said as a tear streamed down his cheek. "Just 'cause it's hard, that's no excuse not to try."
Obama emphasized that he was not setting the country down a path of taking away guns from the populace, pointing to existing restrictions on other Constitutional guarantees — including the illegality of yelling "fire" in a crowded theater affecting the right to freedom of speech.
"I believe in the Second Amendment," he said. "How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people's guns?"
While underscoring his administration's position on the legality of the executive orders, Obama also emphasized several stories of those who has been affected by gun violence. He cited statics from Connecticut showing that requiring background checks and gun safety courses decreased gun deaths by 40 percent.
The White House said the FBI will hire more examiners and improve its current digital systems to make its background checks more efficient and effective. (Under current law, a gun dealer can go ahead and sell a firearm if a requested background check takes longer than three days.)
Decrying what he characterized as Congress' failure to act on curtailing gun violence, Obama declared that "the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage."
The White House said that the Social Security Administration had indicated that it would begin a rulemaking process "to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons."
Hitting the issue of gun violence from other angles, the Obama administration is requesting resources for 200 new ATF employees to help enforce the law and proposing a new $500 million investment for mental health care access. The president also directed the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into safer gun technology.
Obama concluded his announcement with a long term call for political action.
"If we love our kids and care about their prospects, and if we love this country and care about its future, then we can find the courage to vote, we can find the courage to get mobilized and organized," he said. "We can find the courage to cut through all the noise and do what a sensible country would do. That's what we're doing today, and tomorrow we should do more, and we should do more the day after that."
Politicians and lobby groups were quick to comment on Obama's executive actions.
In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan said: "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. "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."
Promising "vigilant oversight" into the White House initiatives and predicting court challenges, Ryan said that "no matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment."
Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement that Obama "has chosen to engage in political rhetoric instead of offering meaningful solutions to our nation's pressing problems," suggesting that the president was pushing actions "ripe for abuse" as a way of distracting the citizenry from the issue of terrorism.
"The American people do not need more emotional, condescending lectures that are completely devoid of facts," Cox said. "The timing of this announcement, in the eighth and final year of his presidency, demonstrates not only political exploitation but a fundamental lack of seriousness."
Democrats, including the party's presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders applauded Obama's actions.
—Reuters contributed to this report.