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Obama Promises Action on Gun Laws, But Change Not Easy


All too often during President Barack Obama's seven years in office, he has taken the podium in the wake of a mass shooting to call for gun regulations. "Somehow this has become routine,” he said after an October college shooting that killed 10. “We've become numb to this."

On Monday, he promised to do something about gun violence with an executive order, bypassing Congress.

"We have to be very clear that this is not going to solve every violent crime in this country,” he said, “it's not going to prevent every mass shooting, it's not going to keep every gun out of the hands of the criminal. It will potentially save lives in this country and spare families the pain and the extraordinary loss that they have suffered as a consequence of a firearm being in the hands of the wrong people."

But changing those laws isn't easy. Three main reasons stand in the way, making America different from other countries.

1. Tradition

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is often interpreted as guaranteeing Americans the right to own guns. Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman who now is a lobbyist, said gun ownership, unlike the case in other countries, "is a part of Americana."

He pointed to the role of guns in the opening of the American West. "There's a lot of romance connected to that, and probably a lot of unfounded legend," he said. "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.”

2. Power of the National Rifle Association
The second reason is the National Rifle Association. In 2014 alone, the NRA spent $2.5 million to lobby for gun rights, and contributed almost $30 million directly to pro-gun candidates. The $300 million organization has 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 than 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 recently, asking to hear from constituents.

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

DiAne Boese was accidentally shot in the face by another child when she was three-years-old. She joined a group across the street from the White House in 2015 that is calling on the president to pressure gun manufacturers for more smart gun technology.

DiAne Boese was accidentally shot in the face by another child when she was three-years-old. She joined a group across the street from the White House in 2015 that is calling on the president to pressure gun manufacturers for more smart gun technology.

3. American opinion

But that’s the third reason. Several surveys, including a recent one by ABC News, indicate only 45 percent support a ban on assault weapons, while 47 percent think more Americans should carry guns.

Carroll Doherty, director of political research at the Pew Research Center, said the surveys reflect "a sense among many Americans that the reason to own a gun is for personal protection. 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 points out that public perception is wrong — crime rates have been sharply decreasing since the 1990s..

'Stop whining, Mr. President'

A small group of religious leaders and congregation members protest weekly across the street from the White House with a message to 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."

And, so, that is what the President plans to do as he issues his executive orders. But gun advocates point out that any presidential executive order may be temporary, if US legislators gather enough votes to change it.

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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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