The President’s Remarks
April 17, 2013

“A few months ago, in response to too many tragedies […] this country took up the cause of protecting more of our people from gun violence.  Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders — not just to honor the memory of their children, but to protect the lives of all our children. And a few minutes ago, a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it. They blocked common-sense gun reforms even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery.

“By now, it’s well known that 90 percent of the American people support universal background checks that make it harder for a dangerous person to buy a gun. We’re talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with a severe mental illness.  Ninety percent of Americans support that idea. Most Americans think that’s already the law.

“And a few minutes ago, 90 percent of Democrats in the Senate just voted for that idea. But it’s not going to happen because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea.

“We had a Democrat and a Republican -– both gun owners, both fierce defenders of our Second Amendment, with ‘A’ grades from the NRA — come together and worked together to write a common-sense compromise on background checks.  […]  As they said, nobody could honestly claim that the package they put together infringed on our Second Amendment rights. All it did was extend the same background check rules that already apply to guns purchased from a dealer to guns purchased at gun shows or over the Internet. So 60 percent of guns are already purchased through a background check system; this would have covered a lot of the guns that are currently outside that system.

“But instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of “big brother” gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry. Plain and simple, right there in the text. But that didn’t matter.

“And unfortunately, this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose, because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators. And I talked to several of these senators over the past few weeks, and they’re all good people. I know all of them were shocked by tragedies like Newtown. And I also understand that they come from states that are strongly pro-gun. And I have consistently said that there are regional differences when it comes to guns, and that both sides have to listen to each other.

“But the fact is most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun. There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this. It came down to politics — the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections. They worried that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-Second Amendment.  […]

“I’ve heard some say that blocking this step would be a victory. And my question is, a victory for who? A victory for what? All that happened today was the preservation of the loophole that lets dangerous criminals buy guns without a background check. That didn’t make our kids safer. […]  It begs the question, who are we here to represent?

“I’ve heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced. ‘A prop,’ somebody called them. ‘Emotional blackmail,’ some outlet said. Are they serious? Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue? Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate?

“So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.

“But this effort is not over.  […]  To all the people who supported this legislation — law enforcement and responsible gun owners, Democrats and Republicans, urban moms, rural hunters, whoever you are — you need to let your representatives in Congress know that you are disappointed, and that if they don’t act this time, you will remember come election time.   […]

“So to change Washington, you, the American people, are going to have to sustain some passion about this.  […]”

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