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California Shooting Sparks Discussion on US Gun Laws


President Barack Obama makes a statement on Wednesday's mass shooting in San Bernandino, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015.

President Barack Obama makes a statement on Wednesday's mass shooting in San Bernandino, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015.

A somber Barack Obama spoke from the Oval Office to express condolences to family members and give advice to Americans in the aftermath of the December 2 shooting that killed 14 people at a California social services center.

“We are going to have to search ourselves as a society, to make sure that we can take basic steps that would make it harder, not impossible, but harder for individuals to get access to weapons,” the U.S. president said Thursday.

Obama repeats plea about laws

It was at least the 14th time Obama had addressed a shocked nation after a mass shooting. "It’s going to be important to all of us, including our legislatures, to see what we can do to make sure that -- when individuals decide they want to do someone harm -- we make it a little harder for them to do it, because right now it’s just too easy.”

Changing those laws, however, isn't easy. Three main reasons stand in the way, making the United States unique compared to other countries.

WATCH: President Obama's statement on California shooting

Tradition

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is often interpreted as guaranteeing Americans the right to own guns. Vin Weber is a former Republican congressman, now a lobbyist.

“It’s a part of Americana that it’s not part of in other countries - the opening of the West - there's a lot of romance connected to that and probably a lot of unfounded legend; but, it is part of the American mythological experience that gun ownership is central to our identity as a country. So, for those reasons, it's a different reason here than almost anywhere else in the world.”

Guns for sale are displayed in the Roseburg Gun Shop in Roseburg, Oregon, Oct. 3, 2015.

Guns for sale are displayed in the Roseburg Gun Shop in Roseburg, Oregon, Oct. 3, 2015.

Power of National Rifle Association

The NRA spent $10 million over the last three years to lobby for gun rights. The $300 million organization has more than 4 million members.

Weber says, “The NRA is powerful because they represent real people, who get involved in the political process and express themselves and vote and are active. They don't buy people off. They motivate their members around the country who care more about this issue and anything else. It’s pretty hard to criticize the NRA when they are doing the ultimate democratic - small “d”- democratic thing: organizing people to express themselves on an issue to their government.”

Typically, Democrats propose gun control laws. Republicans defeat them. New York Senator Chuck Schumer joined a group of Democrats on the steps of the Capitol, asking to hear from constituents.

“The American people are crying out for action. Unless the American people make their voices heard, the gridlock on this issue will not change.”

American opinion

A Pew Research Center survey found Americans divided, with gun rights winning 52 percent over gun control.

"It reflects a sense among many Americans that the reason to own a gun is for personal protection," said Carroll Doherty, Pew's director of political research. "That's a shift and what you see is people who think crime rates are remaining the same or going higher, those are the ones who are most supportive and who see guns as a means of safety rather than risk.”

Doherty says public perception is wrong - crime rates have been sharply decreasing since the 1990's.

'Stop whining, Mr. President'

A small group of religious leaders and congregation members recently stood across the street from the White House with a message to President Obama.

“Mr. President, we are calling you out to stop whining,” said Bishop Douglas Miles. “This behavior diminishes the presidency. It creates the false impression that the president of the United States – who buys more guns than perhaps anyone else on Earth – has no power when it comes to limiting gun violence.”

This group wants President Obama to bypass Congress and pressure the executives at the top gun manufacturers to reveal distribution lines and punish dealers whose guns are involved in crimes.

Anthony Bennett is a pastor in Connecticut. "We’re not asking to control guns. We’re just asking to make sure that guns that shouldn’t be in the hands of criminals don’t get into their hands.”

Some say the shootings won’t end until something is done; but "how" to get it done is still unclear.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.

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