On Tuesday, after days of anticipation and speculation, President Obama made it official: He's signing new executive actions on gun control, finally trying to accomplish something concrete on the issue a full seven years into his presidency. It's not a tidy or assuredly successful effort by any means, however, with conservatives decrying the plan as executive overreach, and progressives likely feeling like the measures aren't quite as far as they'd like. So obviously, the president had to explain himself to the nation. Here are the most jarring quotes from Obama's gun control presser. It's clear just how much the rate of firearm incidents and mass shootings in this country have taken their toll on him.
Obama delivered his remarks from the East Room of the White House at about 11:40 a.m. Tuesday, and needless to say, he had a lot riding on his explanation. While the basic provisions of his plan are broadly popular ― more than 90 percent of gun owners support universal background checks, including more than 80 percent of Republicans ― the fact that he's taking this step unilaterally, without the benefit of a GOP-led Congress that's deeply hostile to reform, makes it something of a political powder keg. So it comes as no surprise that there were some striking appeals on Obama's part. Here are eight examples.
1. "Thanks to a great medical team, and the love of her husband Mark, my good friend Gabby Giffords survived."
This was a stirring moment from right at the beginning of Obama's remarks, when he reflected on the attempted murder of former Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. Giffords was in attendance at the press conference, and when Obama pointed out her presence, she was met with a heartfelt ovation from the assembled crowd.
2. "This room, right here, there are a lot of stories. And a lot of heartache. There's a lot of resilience, a lot of strength, but there's also a lot of pain. And this is just a small sample."
As Obama detailed, some 30,000 Americans each year lose their lives to gun violence — a positively staggering and depressing statistic. The United States leads the world in annual gun deaths by a wide, wide margin.
3. "We are the only country on Earth that sees mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. It doesn't happen in other countries. It's not even close. And like I said, somehow, we become numb to it, and we start thinking that this is normal. And instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most partisan, polarized debates."
If there's any commonality to every incident in which Obama has had to speak to the nation about gun control, it's the sound of fatigue, emotional drain, and quiet anger. But in that reaction, you see the numbness he's talking about ― the more these awful incidents happen, the less it feels like there are tangible ways to solve the problem. That's as much the thrust of Obama's early remarks as anything ― trying to shake off a sense of communal apathy, and rally support for what's actually a very popular policy proposal.
4. "Anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and perform background checks, or be subject to criminal prosecution. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it over the Internet or at a gun show. Doesn’t matter where you do it, but what you do."
This is the core aim of Obama's planned executive orders: to tighten or even close loopholes that allow private gun sellers and buyers to skirt the background check system.
5. "We’re working with advocates to protect victims of domestic abuse from gun violence, when too often, people are not getting the protection that they need."
The president didn't limit his remarks to any one particular form of gun violence. His speech wasn't just about mass shootings, but also the myriad other ways that guns impact people's lives.
6. "We’re gonna do more to help those suffering from mental illness get the help that they need. So high-profile mass shootings tend to shine a light on those few mentally unstable people who inflict harm on others, but the truth is that nearly two in three gun deaths are suicides. So a lot of our work is to prevent people from hurting themselves."
Obama's figure is spot-on here. By far, the biggest cause of gun deaths in the United States is suicide. It's a staggering public health crisis that needs a lot more attention in the conversation than it often gets.
7. "Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well, and we have to balance them. Because our right to worship freely and safely ― that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They have rights too."
Obama's shout-out to free, safe religious worship may have been aimed at more conservative circles ― invoking the importance of religious freedom and all that ― as well as progressive ones. He's highlighting high-profile attacks against a number of marginalized, targeted groups.
8. "First-graders. And from every family who could never imagine that their loved ones would be taken by a bullet from a gun. Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day."
This was undoubtedly the most emotional line of the speech. Obama visibly wiped away some tears as he spoke about the countless children who've lost their lives through gun violence in recent years, from Newtown, Connecticut to the streets of his hometown of Chicago.
Images: The White House (8)