WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the debate on gun control continues, President Barack Obama has released his recommendations for new policies on gun use in the United States.
In his remarks Wednesday, the president called for stricter background checks for gun buyers and limits on assault weapons, such as the kind used in the movie theater shooting last summer in Colorado.
"We can't put this off any longer," Obama said. "... In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun — 900 in the past month. And every day we wait, that number will keep growing."
The president's first proposal was for Congress to require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun. Although the law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, Obama said it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check. Those purchasing a gun — whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller — will have to show they are not a felon and are not legally prohibited from buying a weapon.
Secondly, Obama urged Congress to restore a ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines.
"That's what allowed the gunman in Aurora to shoot 70 people — 70 people — killing 12 in a matter of minutes," the president said. "Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater."
Obama also pledged to help schools hire more resource officers and develop emergency preparedness plans; to make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence; to direct the Centers for Disease Control to study the best ways to reduce gun violence; and to encourage Congress to fund research into the effects that violent video games have on youth.
Although the president said he believed the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms and that there are many responsible, law-abiding gun owners in America, he said the steps he is proposing are necessary.
"While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, 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," he said.
The gun control debate has ignited a nationwide controversy, and much discussion likely will be generated by the president's proposals.
The NRA's official response posted on their website Wednesday does not yet specify the organization's specific stance on the president's comments.
"We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America's most valuable asset - our children," the statement read. "Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy."
Jason McCool, manager of A Pawn Shop in Newton, said his shop already is performing background checks on people purchasing weapons, so that portion of Obama's proposal won't really affect them.
He said the biggest impact on gun owners will be the limit on large capacity clips. He said gun enthusiasts who are involved in sports shooting and go to gun ranges will have to reload more often if clip capacities are restricted.
Police Chief Jim Daily said all licensed dealers already are required by law to perform background checks on people who purchase firearms. Where background checks are not required is when an individual sells a weapon to another individual.
Although Daily believes background checks "absolutely need to be done," he said it's also important to find a way to fix loop holes that may allow someone with a mental incapacity to own a gun to become in possession of a firearm. There's also the issue of a person with no criminal background purchasing a firearm for a person who legally can't have a gun, or criminals stealing guns from people who legally own them.
Daily said he also believes limiting the capacity of a clip won't have an impact on crime.
"Magazine capacity is not going to make an impact on the crime," he said. "If someone is bent on committing a crime, they're going to commit the crime."
What he would like to see is tougher enforcement of the many gun laws currently on the books.
"If they would just enforce them to the maximum we could enforce them, we'd be doing fine," he said.
Harvey County Attorney David Yoder said the regulations concerning gun violations are complex. For example, the court must sentence a person to time in prison if a firearm is involved in a crime such as rape, battery, assault or kidnapping.
For a person who commits any felony with the use of a firearm, prison automatically is presumed. For a drug felony with a firearm, prison also is presumed, with an additional six months in prison. If the firearm is actually discharged during the drug felony, that extra time in prison goes up to 18 months.
If you have been previously convicted of a felony and simply have a gun in your possession, you can be charged with an additional crime. Depending on the type of felony committed, you could be banned from owning a gun for several years, or even permanently.