Obama Calls for Gun Control & Research

Obama and Biden at gun press conference
President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live video feed from the White House, unveiling his gun violence agenda as Vice President Joe Biden looks on. (Image credit: The White House)

Warning that no one piece of legislation could completely prevent gun tragedies, President Barack Obama nevertheless called today (Jan. 16) for what he described as "common-sense measures" to reduce the chances of gun violence.

The measures include 23 executive orders that will not require Congressional approval, including a memo to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to renew its gun violence research program, which has been stifled by Congressional action since the 1990s.

Public health research funded by the CDC was frozen after Congress added language to budget appropriations legislation forbidding federal money from going to "advocate or promote gun control." Because research into the causes of gun violence could arguably be used in that manner, funding dried up. In 2011, the rule was expanded to include research funded by the National Institutes of Health.

However, the Obama administration's lawyers have concluded that the language does not prohibit public health research into gun violence, a senior administration official told reporters today. Obama will also push Congress to include $10 million in the CDC's 2014 budget to fund gun research.

"We don't benefit from ignorance," Obama said in his speech unveiling the proposals. "We don't benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence."

The president also said he would push Congress to expand background checks for anyone buying a gun, including private sales by non-licensed dealers. He also plans to push for a renewed assault weapons ban and for a ban on high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

These bans would not involve going after assault weapons and magazines already on the market, the senior official said, but would prevent future manufacture. [5 Milestones in Gun Control History]

The proposals also include providing more funding for police officers in schools, school counselors, and school emergency preparedness planning, Obama said. Other proposals include nominating the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Todd Jones, to a permanent position heading the agency. Obama also said he wants to give law enforcement more leeway when going after so-called "straw buyers," people who purchase firearms to resell to those not legally allowed to own them.

Obama interwove his policy suggestions with mentions of the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

"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 act of 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, we've got an obligation to do it," he said.

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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.