In his third-ever primetime Oval Office address on Sunday night, and first since 2010, President Obama called for more gun regulation but fell short of issuing executive orders of his own.
The 13-minute address, sandwiched between Sunday night football games, read like a pep talk to the nation during half-time in the war on terror. The president spoke of the ongoing conflict between the U.S., its 65 allies and Islamic extremists, while assuring the country of ultimate victory.
“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us,” Obama said.
Then, halfway through the prepared remarks, the president reiterated a call for Congress to make sure those on the government’s Terrorist Screening Database, the so-called No Fly List, aren’t able to legally purchase a firearm. Those opposed to such a plan argue it eliminates constitutional protections to due process for the estimated 700,000 individuals on the list, while others contend the number of U.S. citizens on the list likely doesn’t exceed 10,000, and there is a simple redress system for those misidentified.
The president met with Americans for Responsible Solutions co-founders Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly on Friday to discuss closing what they classified as various loopholes in the country’s gun laws including that of the terror watch list.
“What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security,” the president said before transitioning to a potential resurrection of a federal assault weapon ban.
“We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino,” Obama said. “I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies — no matter how effective they are — cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do — and must do — is make it harder for them to kill.”
The president closed his address by calling on Congress to establish stronger screening for travelers to the U.S. without a visa to check and see if they have visited overseas war-zones while making several appeals to resist a growing Islamophobia.
“It is our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently,” said Obama, calling ISIL a “cult of death” and “letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.”
What the president did not do, despite the urging of national gun control groups, is announce any executive actions on firearm regulations.
In October, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown group pitched the White House a series of five recommended executive actions on gun control measures without waiting on lawmakers. This list included regulatory actions on how the Federal Bureau of Investigation compiles background check data and how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives classifies private person to person gun sales.
Since then, other gun violence advocates have piled atop the recommendation, urging presidential action.
In January 2013, President Obama announced 23 executive orders in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed the lives of 26 students and faculty, to address what he called “the epidemic of gun violence.”
While no orders were forthcoming Sunday night, Everytown lauded the address, quickly tweeting experts. Top Republicans, however, including those seeking to move into the Oval Office in 2016, blasted the president’s remarks.
“On December 7, 1941, in response to Pearl Harbor, FDR did not give a partisan speech, rather he called on Americans to unite and ‘win through to absolute victory'” said Sen. Ted Cruz in a statement. “If I am elected President, I will direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS. And I will shut down the broken immigration system that is letting jihadists into our country. Nothing President Obama said tonight will assist in either case.”
In a follow-up to the president’s speech, Republican contender Donald Trump tweeted out, “Is that all there is? We need a new President – FAST!” after live tweeting the event. Trump also weighed in on gun rights immediately prior to the address, saying, “Hope he won’t spend too much time ripping apart the 2nd. Amendment!”