obamastateoftheunion.jpgPresident Obama unveiled Wednesday morning what he called “common-sense measures” to reduce gun violence after Vice President Joe Biden delivered recommendations earlier this week to prevent mass shootings like the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last month.

Obama highlighted several reforms from a list of 23 recommendations for Congress to OK spending a proposed $500 million on efforts to quell gun violence.

“If there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try,” Obama said this morning.

The recommendations were based on work headed by Biden and cabinet members who met with 290 groups ranging from law enforcement agencies, public health offices, marksmen, hunters, religious leaders, gun advocates, mayors, governors, and county officials in the month since the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first graders and six adults.

Based on Biden’s task force recommendations, Obama proposed strengthening criminal background checks for all gun buyers.

He cited 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check, and called that dangerous and negligent.

“It’s not fair to responsible gun buyers or sellers,” he said.

The president also called for restoring a ban on all military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines.

“Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater,” he said, referring to last July’s Aurora, Colo., theater shooting that killed 12.

Obama asked for more severe punishment for gun crime and illegal gun sales, bolstered by increased police presence on city streets.

Additionally, he noted that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives needs a confirmed director after six years, and said he would recommend that interim director Todd Jones be named to that post.

A 15-page report released from the White House late this morning details other proposals including more gun and violence research initiatives, more focus on mental health, and increased school safety measures.

Those on both sides of the gun control debate have responded to the president’s directive to Congress.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, herself a shooting survivor from the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana, sits on the bipartisan Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, which she said will come up with complementary recommendations for reducing gun violence that she expects to be fully supported.

“The horrific nature of the Sandy Hook shootings is painful for all of us,” she said this afternoon. “It’s also important to realize we live in an incredibly violent society.”

She said the most important aspects of Obama’s plan and the congressional recommendations that need to pass in Congress are mandatory criminal background checks.

Although a huge number of illegal guns and assault weapons are already in circulation, she said measures are needed to stop the cycle.

Following today’s proposal, Speier said she will be introducing two bills to renew assault weapons and high-capacity magazine bans and improve tracking of guns used in crimes.

She emphasized the importance of keeping tabs on guns and expanding California’s already existing gun registry.

The congresswoman reflected on her own experience with gun violence in the mass shooting where she was shot multiple times and U.S. Rep. Ryan Leo was killed along with four others on a fact-finding mission for suspected human rights violations by a cult.

“I feel a personal obligation to do something, because I survived,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, the chair of the congressional task force, recognized the importance of executive action and the next steps needed for reform.

“Now it’s time for Congress to step up and do what needs to be done to save lives,” he said in a statement this morning.

The task force is developing a comprehensive set of policy recommendations that will be released in early February.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein released a statement today commending what she called Obama’s comprehensive and commonsense plan, highlighting his remarks about assault weapon reform.

She announced that next week she will introduce legislation banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition.

“These weapons have one purpose: to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time possible,” she said in the statement.

State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, noted in a statement released this morning that Obama’s plan would reduce gun violence at the much-needed federal level.

“California has tough gun laws but our ability to address gun violence is undermined when one can bypass California rules by crossing state lines. Federal action is needed to ensure the effectiveness of our state laws,” she said.

Skinner last month introduced state legislation to reduce gun ammunition sales.

Rev. Dr. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said he has worked with local clergy and written to Obama about gun violence and that “we are on the same page,” on issues ranging from background checks to bans on assault weapons.

“Why do you need to be that armed up?” Brown said.

Brown was quick to distinguish between the problem of urban violence and mass shootings, noting that increased crime in many Bay Area cities stem from socio-economic disparities and lack of opportunity for young people.

As for the nation, Brown said something has to be done on how we view gun ownership and protecting ourselves–at the expense of innocent lives.

“It’s time that faith leaders take the lead,” he said, “and take out the political posturing.”
“Let’s look at what’s good for the people,” Brown said.

Scott Jackson, the chief instructor from the Burlingame-based Bay Area Training Group, asserted that Obama is not dealing with gun crime problem correctly.

As an instructor, Jackson trains people how to properly use and keep guns and said gun owners have to be responsible, especially keeping the weapon locked up and registered.

He said in the past weeks since the Sandy Hook shooting he’s seen his training session attendance quadruple from about 90 clients a month to more than 350 in the past month.
“We’re making people safe shooters,” he said.

More information about Obama’s plan to stop gun violence is
available at whitehouse.gov/now-is-the-time.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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