Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Obama’s Gun Orders Send Lawmakers Into Spin Mode

WASHINGTON (CN) - Lawmakers got on the horn Wednesday in an effort to quiet critics of President Barack Obama's recent executive orders to curb gun violence.

The president's emotional appeal on Tuesday was met with stiff resistance from key Republicans after he announced executive orders to close loopholes in background checks and boost federal funding for mental health care and safer gun technologies.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said the executive actions "undermined liberty."

Speaking to members of the press by phone, several Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday afternoon that the president is well within his legal authority to put forth what they described as "common-sense" measures, contrary to hyperbole from some Republicans that the president has exceeded his authority.

"What the president is doing is closing a loophole," Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, said.

Gallego, a gun owner who says he slept next to his M-16 for many months while serving in Iraq, said the only groups who should fear the president's orders are prohibited sellers and buyers.

"Many of the arguments I'm hearing out there feel contrived," he said, adding that he does not believe the president's executive action impedes Second Amendment rights.

Instead, it will allow legitimate and legal gun retailers to sell on a more level playing field because they will not have to compete with unlicensed sellers, Gallego said.

It would also allow the federal government to more effectively fight straw purchasers - a person who buys a gun for someone who is legally prohibited from owning one, said Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Florida.

Major gun reform - including universal background checks - will be a long-term fight, Murphy said, one that he is fully committed to.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, said she strongly supports the president's executive action.

"These steps are smart, reasonable and most importantly, will make a life or death difference for some children and their families," Warren said.

She added that she thinks federal gun regulation is necessary because weak state laws do not prevent residents of states with tougher gun legislation from buying firearms in other states.

White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett said that Obama hopes to expand the conversation during Thursday night's town hall "Guns in America," moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper.

"There has been a lot of fiction swirling around in the public domain," Jarrett said.

The town hall will be an opportunity to "separate fact from fiction," and have a discussion with those who are skeptical of the president's strategy, she added.

The National Rifle Association declined an invitation to participate in the town hall, after Obama accused the gun lobby on Tuesday of holding Congress hostage from taking action to curb gun violence.

Lawmakers said Wednesday that the American people must demand change to curb gun violence because Congress has so far failed to act.

"The NRA will be defeated," Warren said. "Our job in Congress is to show that there are many of us willing to fight. We will get it."

Jarrett noted that nearly 2/3 of all gun deaths in the United States are suicides, highlighting one of the key components of the president's executive actions - $500 million to boost access to mental health care.

She also said the Social Security Administration will begin the rule-making process for transmitting appropriate information about individuals whose severe mental health issues prohibit them from owning guns to the FBI for background checks.

Current law prohibits people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, pose a danger to themselves or others or cannot handle their own affairs from buying guns.

Previously, the privacy rule in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prevented mental health providers from sharing mental health information. Obama's executive orders will include a modification of that rule, which the Department of Health and Human Services has already permitted.

Jarrett did not directly address where the administration proposes to draw the line in reporting people with severe mental illness to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

However, the rulemaking will include an appeal process for people prohibited from buying a gun because of mental health issues, according to a White House fact-sheet on the new executive orders.

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