Barack Obama has no choice but to act on his own on gun laws because of legislative inaction

Tens of thousands of Americans die each year in gun-related violence, yet the Republican-led Congress is either unwilling or unable to do anything about it

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 January, 2016, 12:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 January, 2016, 12:53am

No matter how many Americans are killed in shooting sprees, there is little chance that lawmakers are going to tighten gun controls. Politics and the lobbying strength of the National Rifle Association ensure that any such legislation will be voted down. Barack Obama was therefore right to use his presidential powers to strengthen enforcement by clarifying existing laws. It is a small step, but necessary to help push the US towards greater firearms responsibility.

Obama made the announcement in front of victims of shootings and their families and was visibly upset as he laid out the details, tears rolling down his face. He had every right to be emotional: too many Americans have been senselessly killed. Partisan politics is in part in the way, with opposition Republican lawmakers hostile to the president’s every decision. In his final year in office, being able to bring about a change would help cement his legacy, but there is limited chance for that and further measures will largely be up to his successor.

Surveys consistently show a majority of citizens want tougher rules on who can buy, sell and own guns. The clamour rises after mass killings – such as in 2012, when 20 children and six teachers were shot dead at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, or last June after a young white man gunned down nine black churchgoers in South Carolina – but as quickly subsides. Obama has promptly responded to each with an emotive call for Congress to curb the slaughter by making gun ownership more difficult. He has been stymied at every turn, leaving no choice other than to look to measures that bypass the legislative process.

The biggest shift announced on Tuesday will expand background checks to ensure that online and gun-show sellers are licensed. Extra funding was sought from Congress for mental health and to improve enforcement of laws. The steps are a far cry from Obama’s unsuccessful attempt in 2012 to close loopholes allowing sales without checks, but at least move towards that goal. There has been predictable criticism from opponents: they contend laws cannot stop determined killers and every American has a constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

More than 30,000 people die each year in gun-related violence in the US. Mass shootings are on the rise. Yet Americans are acquiring ever more guns. Obama has done what he can to keep them out of the hands of criminals and others unfit to carry or own them. It is not a solution, merely a rational response to legislative inaction.