U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal described as “modest” the 10 executive actions on gun control that President Barack Obama tearfully announced Tuesday in the East Room of the White House.
Murphy said it was obvious that the president is sick and tired of trying to explain to the families of victims why Congress hasn’t taken any action on the matter since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Murphy said the school shooting of 20 first graders and six educators in Newtown, Conn. in Dec. 2012 marked the start of the modern anti-gun movement.
Five months after Sandy Hook the U.S. Senate was unable to get enough support to debate background-check legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania.
“I think the president was sick and tired of talking to the victims and to the relatives of victims without being able to convey real action,” Murphy said Tuesday at a press conference in Hartford following the president’s remarks.
Blumenthal expanded on his interpretation of the president’s tears.
“Those tears on the president’s face today in that speech told a story,” Blumenthal said. “A story of frustration and grief and resoluteness. It’s the same story I saw on his face in Sandy Hook when he visited after that terrible tragedy.”
The president got tearful when he recalled the youngest Sandy Hook victims.
“Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad,” Obama said wiping away a tear.
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Several families of Sandy Hook victims joined Obama in the East Room for the speech Tuesday, including Mark Barden, who introduced the president. Barden lost his son, Daniel, at Sandy Hook.
Barden said that Obama made a promise that he would do everything in his power to protect the nation’s children and made communities safer.
Obama is hoping the executive action he took Tuesday will help fulfill that promise.
But just how far the executive actions will go toward making people safer remains to be seen.
Among other things, the executive actions include funding for 200 new ATF agents, more than 230 FBI employees to process background checks, $500 million for mental health care, and a directive to the federal government to research and purchase more smart gun technology.
Murphy said that what the president did Tuesday was clarify existing laws, which were written before the Internet. Blumenthal added that Obama is putting gun sellers on notice that if they are selling guns on the Internet or at gun shows, they need “to be licensed and you need to do background checks.”
The first executive action and the one most likely to be challenged in court says “anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks, or be subject to criminal prosecutions.”
Basically, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it over the Internet or at a gun show. It’s not where you do it, but what you do,” Obama said to applause.
Blumenthal anticipates that there will be a challenge to the executive actions, but said there’s nothing “novel legally about what he is doing here.”
Even though they acknowledged that it’s unlikely any background-check legislation would be raised by a Republican-controlled Congress, Murphy and Blumenthal vowed to continue the fight.
“We’re on the right side of history and eventually there will be major reform to make America safer,” Blumenthal said.
During his speech in the East Room, Obama said he wondered how gun control became such a partisan issue.
Blumenthal wondered the same thing.
“How did this become a Republican versus Democratic issue?” Blumenthal said. “That’s one of the mysteries to me.”
Obama was also unable to answer the question about partisanship. However, he was quick to point out that he’s not trying to score any political points.
“I’m not on the ballot again. I’m not looking to score some points,” Obama said. “I think we can disagree without impugning other people’s motives or without being disagreeable. We don’t need to be talking past one another. But we do have to feel a sense of urgency about it.”
Obama also encouraged the families of victims and the anti-gun advocates in attendance Tuesday to continue to advocate at the ballot box.
“The reason Congress blocks laws is because they want to win elections,” Obama said Tuesday. ”And if you make it hard for them to win an election if they block those laws, they’ll change course, I promise you.”
Murphy said he’s going to keep trying to push for gun control, but he can’t say that Congress is going to pass a major gun control bill this year.
“Right now, it’s tough sledding,” Murphy said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who attended the White House speech, had very little information to share about Connecticut’s effort to get access to federal watchlists for its gun background checks.
“It’s a complicated issue,” Malloy said, acknowledging that there’s no resolution yet.
He said White House officials are working on getting Connecticut an answer.