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Obama uses executive power to push plan to fight gun violence

President Barack Obamaccompanied by Vice President  Joe Biden talks about proposals reduce gun violence Wednesday Jan. 16 2013 South

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, talks about proposals to reduce gun violence, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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Updated: March 18, 2013 1:19AM

President Barack Obama signed 23 executive actions to reduce gun violence Wednesday, even as he encouraged Congress to vote on a $500 million gun control package announced that morning.

The president’s actions came just over a month after the school shooting that took the lives of 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A total 900 Americans have been killed in gun violence in that time, he said.

And they come after Vice President Joe Biden and other members of the Cabinet have met with and gathered input from 229 groups, ranging from sportsmen and hunters and gun advocacy groups to public health and law enforcement officials. The president had tasked them with coming up with “concrete steps” to “reduce the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country.”

“Most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale. I believe most of them agree that if America worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one that occurred in Newtown,” Obama said.

The proposed gun control package most notably includes universal background checks for those buying guns, a ban on “military-style assault weapons,” and a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines, as well as steps aimed at making schools safer and increasing access to mental health services.

And it brought limited reactions from Fox Valley lawmakers, although those who did issue statements expressed support for at least some action to reduce gun violence.

Executive actions

Obama’s plan also includes incentives for schools to hire school resource officers and an order for the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

But, Obama added, “As important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress. To make a real and lasting difference, Congress too must act.”

The president’s proposals to Congress would require a background check for every person who buys a gun.

And possibly the most controversial of his proposals would reinstate a ban on assault weapons, as well as limit high-capacity magazines to 10 rounds. That’s what had allowed the gunman to shoot 70 people in a movie theater this summer in Aurora, Colo., he said.

The president admitted his proposals will be difficult to pass through Congress, calling out “pundits and politicians and special-interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty, not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves.”

And he appealed directly to their audience: “The only way we can change is if the American people demand it.”

NIU in support

Northern Illinois University President John Peters lent his voice to the vice president’s task force on reducing gun violence.

Peters had been president at NIU in February 2008, when a gunman opened fire in a lecture hall at the school in DeKalb. Five students were killed and more were injured in that shooting before the gunman turned his weapon on himself.

NIU said in a statement that Peters is “supportive of a holistic public policy approach to reducing gun violence.” That would include enhanced licensing and registration regulations, appropriate data sharing and mental health policies and issues.

Legislators react

Fox Valley legislators agreed action is needed, but did not expressly say they would support the president’s proposals.

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, did not indicate whether he would vote for the president’s proposals, although he noted his past support for improvements to and increased funding for the National Instant Background Check System. And he said in a statement issued Wednesday by his office that the U.S. House will get to work in the coming weeks, and he is looking forward to being “part of these discussions and furthering the debate.”

“The tragedy in Newtown has brought into sharp focus the need for action to prevent future atrocities. Improvements need to be made to prevent criminals and unstable individuals from obtaining weapons in the first place,” Roskam said.

“It is also vital that any action must be holistic, taking into account improvements in mental health, school safety and discussing violence in our culture.”

In a statement issued by his office, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, also did not indicate whether he supported those proposals. But he said there are many things the federal government can and should do to reduce gun violence, and he hoped Congress would look at the example of Aurora.

“We’ve seen a strong example of that in Aurora, Illinois, where the murder rate went from 25 murders in 2002 and 2003 to 0 murders last year. This dramatic reduction was due in no small part to the coordinated intervention of the federal government including the FBI and the AFT and local law enforcement officials,” Foster said.

U.S. Rep Tammy Duckworth already expressed her support for bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines last week to the Chicago Sun-Times, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin to The Courier-News. Durbin said then he had not seen the president’s proposals but that he planned to support them.

U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield Township, did not comment Wednesday on those proposals. Spokesman Laura Finch, in Hultgren’s office in Washington, said the congressman was out of town that day and would not comment.

Staff writer Steve Lord,
the AP and Sun-Times
contributed to this report.

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