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  • U.S. President Barack Obama announces what some consider to be historic action on gun reforms.

    U.S. President Barack Obama announces what some consider to be historic action on gun reforms. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 January 2016

The president has been criticized by Republicans for bypassing Congress, while gun control reformers say the changes fall short.

President Barack Obama unveiled his four-point plan on gun reform Tuesday, a set of executive actions that most Republicans have already denounced as violating the Second Amendment, but what some gun reform campaigners say is not enough.

“Instead of thinking of how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized partisan debates.”

The President began his emotional speech by listing all the latest mass shootings in the United States, including Charleston, Sandy Hook, Kansas City, Chapel Hill, Oak Creek, and Aurora among so many others.

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“Too many,” he said.

“We are the only advanced country on earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. It doesn't happen in other advanced countries. It's not even close,” added the president. “Somehow, we've become numb to it and this has become normal.”

Apart from mass shootings, the president also added that more than 30,000 Americans have had their lives cut short by guns through suicide, domestic violence, gang shootouts and gun accidents among others.

Obama also added that despite the fact that background checks are already required at gun stores, the system has not been properly enforced, while online gun vendors have managed to circumvent these checks. The president cited a recent study which found that one in 30 people who buy guns online have a history of violence or a criminal past and were never subjected to background checks.

“Instead of thinking of how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized partisan debates,” said Obama.

The president also addressed those critics, mainly Republicans, who say that passing gun reform violates the second amendment and tries to restrict the freedom to bear arms.

“I believe in the second amendment,” said Obama. “It guarantees the right to bear arms. No matter how many times people try to twist my words around ... I get it,” he said. “But I also believe we can find a way to reduce gun violence while adhering to the second amendment.”

The new reforms will require businesses selling firearms to get a license to implement background checks, and expand background checks to some citizens, including those with mental health concerns and those with a criminal or violent past. The government will also put more resources into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to hire more people to make the application process faster and more efficient.

More resources will also be put into ensuring the “smart and effective enforcement” of gun safety laws that are already in place, including forcing gun carriers to report lost or stolen guns and working with advocates to protect victims of domestic abuse from gun violence.

The third point includes pumping US$500 million into the mental health sector to expand access to treatment across the country. While mass shootings tend to highlight the few individuals who suffer from mental health issues, many more gun deaths that do not make the media are suicides, which reveals the drastic need for increased access to mental health care, said Obama.

The final point is increasing gun safety technology, which will include directing the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into new gun safety technology. According to the president, in 2013 alone, more than 500 people lost their lives to gun accidents, including 30 children under 5-years-old.

“There is no need for this,” said the president. “If a child can't open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can't fire a gun.”

Some gun reform campaigners have also criticized Obama's executive action for not being strong enough. According to critics, the action falls short since they do not require that every gun sale in the country be preceded by a criminal background check, it does not put a ban on gun sales to people on terrorist “no-fly” lists, and it does not ban large capacity gun magazines that hold a lot of bullets.

High-profile shootings in 2015 revived a nationwide conversation about gun control. There have been more than 350 mass shootings in the U.S last year, according to an online tracker.

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