After much anticipation, President Barack Obama announced his bold and sweeping gun-control agenda on January 16 in the wake of last month’s Connecticut school shooting.
Obama’s 23 proposals encompass background checks, law enforcement, gun violence research, school safety, and mental health. Obama said that he wants to reinstate and strengthen the ban on assault weapons as well as limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
He stated in his speech: “Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”
Four school children who had written the president letters after the Sandy Hook shooting attended Wednesday’s event in Washington. Obama noted that one, Grant Fritz, wrote, “I think there should be some changes. We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook. I feel really bad.”
Obama plans to sign legislation to provide incentives for police departments to hire school resource officers through COPS hiring grants, giving schools and other institutions a model for developing and implementing emergency plans and sharing best practices on school discipline.
Social Science Professor Henry Schissler, a psychotherapist at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Conn., said in an interview that Obama’s proposals are a start.
“Adding trained mental health counselors to school environments will definitely help, Schissler said. “They would be able to assess the ‘dangerousness’ factors of an individual, interact with families, and mobilize community services.”
Obama can sign some of his proposals into law through executive action while Congress will have to approve the others. He wants Congress to pass legislation that would provide $30 million in one-time state grants to help school districts develop emergency management plans. He also wants $50 million to help 8,000 more schools train their teachers and staff to create safer and more nurturing environments.
Additionally, Obama proposed to give $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire school resource officers, school psychologists, social works and counselors. In recent years, school counselors were often the first to go when it was time for budget cuts.
Despite, these ideas for change, Obama has the House of Representatives to contend with. The House is controlled by Republicans, many of whom are ardent supporters of the Second Amendment and unwilling to budge on gun issues.
Also, the National Rifle Association, the country’s largest and oldest gun owners’ organization, plans to fight Obama on his proposals.
“The NRA seems to have staked its flag on the hill of the semi-automatic weapon,” Tim Horner, an assistant professor in Villanova University's Center for Peace and Justice Education, said in an interview. “Obama has staked his flag on the hill of public opinion, which seems to be more open to gun control than in the last two decades. Congress has not staked its flag yet. It is difficult to know how they will respond. The NRA says that there is not enough support in Congress and Obama hopes that there is.”
Obama also tackled mental health in his speech. A simple start, he said, would be to launch a national dialogue about mental illness. He plans to sign legislation that would complete requirements for private health insurance plans to cover mental health services.
Congress, again, would have to pass Obama’s larger mental health agenda that provides $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety and another $50 million to train 5,000 additional mental health professionals serving children and young adults.
Dr. Charles A. Williams III, an associate teaching professor of psychology and education at Drexel University, said that mental health was key to combat school violence.
“We also have to deal with the stigma of mental health; this prevents people from accessing it,” he said. “We need to get to a school-based behavioral health model. This means that schools would be sort of a one-stop-shop for both student and family mental health needs.”