Now Is the Time: The President's Plan to Protect our Children and our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence
Our nation has suffered too much at the hands of dangerous people who use guns to commit horrific acts of violence. As President Obama said following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, "We won't be able to stop every violent act, but if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try."
Most gun owners are responsible and law-abiding, and they use their guns safely. The President strongly believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. But to better protect our children and our communities from tragic mass shootings like those in Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, and Tucson, there are four common-sense steps we can take right now.
The President's plan includes: (1) closing background check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands; (2) banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and taking other common-sense steps to reduce gun violence; (3) making schools safer; and (4) increasing access to mental health services. Highlights of this comprehensive plan include:
While no law or set of laws will end gun violence, it is clear that the American people want action. If even one child's life can be saved, then we need to act. Now is the time to do the right thing for our children, our communities, and the country we love.
- Require criminal background checks for all gun sales.
- Take four executive actions to ensure information on dangerous individuals is available to the background check system.
- Reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban.
- Restore the 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.
- Protect police by finishing the job of getting rid of armor-piercing bullets.
- Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime.
- End the freeze on gun violence research.
- Make our schools safer with more school resource officers and school counselors, safer climates, and better emergency response plans.
- Help ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need.
- Ensure health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.
TAKING EXECUTIVE ACTION TO DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TODAY
The President is determined to do all he can within existing authorities, and today, he will announce 23 new executive actions to make progress right away. These actions will: help make sure information about potentially dangerous people who are barred from having guns is available to the national background check system; lift the ban on research into the causes of gun violence; make sure doctors know they can report credible threats of violence by their patients; put more resource officers and counselors in schools; and ensure millions of Americans get quality mental health coverage.
CALLING ON CONGRESS TO TAKE COMMON-SENSE STEPS
Congress must also do its part. To prevent mass shootings and other gun violence, Congress should take critical steps through new legislation, including: requiring background checks for all gun sales; reinstating the prohibition on high-capacity magazines; renewing and strengthening the ban on assault weapons; and creating serious penalties for gun traffickers who help put guns into the hands of criminals.
1. CLOSING BACKGROUND CHECK LOOPHOLES TO KEEP GUNS OUT OF DANGEROUS HANDS
Most gun owners buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for self-defense, hunting or sport shooting. Yet too often, irresponsible and dangerous individuals have been able to easily get their hands on firearms. We must strengthen our efforts to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands.
REQUIRE BACKGROUND CHECKS ON ALL GUN SALES: Felons, fugitives, and others who are legally prohibited from having a gun should not be able to use loopholes to get one. Right now, federally licensed firearms dealers are required to run background checks on those buying guns, but studies estimate that nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from this requirement. As the President said following the Newtown tragedy, keeping guns out of the wrong hands starts with legislation to require background checks for all gun sales, with limited, common-sense exceptions for cases like certain transfers among family members and temporary transfers for hunting and sporting purposes. In addition, the Administration will provide licensed dealers with guidance on how they can run background checks on private sales today.
FOUR EXECUTIVE ACTIONS TO STRENGTHEN THE BACKGROUND CHECK SYSTEM: The background check system is highly efficient and effective; during its 14 years in existence, the system has helped keep more than 1.5 million guns out of the wrong hands. The system is able to make 92 percent of background check determinations on the spot. But we must do a better job ensuring the background check system has access to complete information about potentially dangerous individuals. Today the Administration is taking four actions to strengthen the system:
- Addressing unnecessary legal barriers in health laws that prevent some states from making information available about those prohibited from having guns.
- Improving incentives for states to share information with the system.
- Ensuring federal agencies share relevant information with the system.
- Directing the Attorney General to work with other agencies to review our laws to make sure they are effective at identifying the dangerous or untrustworthy individuals that should not have access to guns.
2. BANNING MILITARY-STYLE ASSAULT WEAPONS AND HIGHCAPACITY MAGAZINES, AND TAKING OTHER COMMON-SENSE STEPS TO REDUCE GUN VIOLENCE
We need to do more to prevent easy access to instruments of mass violence. We also need to provide law enforcement with additional tools to prevent gun violence, end the freeze on gun violence research, make sure health care providers know they can report credible threats of violence and talk to their patients about gun safety, and promote responsible gun ownership.
GET MILITARY-STYLE ASSAULT WEAPONS AND HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINES OFF THE STREETS: Several recent mass shootings involved high-capacity ammunition magazines that were prohibited from 1994 to 2004. Many of the mass shooters used the type of semiautomatic rifles that were the target of the assault weapons ban. It is time for Congress to renew the 10-round limit on magazines, and reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban.
PROTECT POLICE BY GETTING RID OF ARMOR-PIERCING BULLETS:
The President also is calling for legislation to finish the job of getting armorpiercing bullets off the streets by prohibiting the possession and transfer of this dangerous ammunition, in addition to its manufacture and import.
GIVE LAW ENFORCEMENT ADDITIONAL TOOLS TO PREVENT AND PROSECUTE GUN CRIME: We owe law enforcement the tools they need to keep us safe. The President will:
- Call for Congress to pass the Administration's $4 billion proposal to help communities keep 15,000 cops on the street.
- Call for Congress to pass new gun trafficking laws, which will impose serious penalties on those who help get guns into the hands of criminals.
- Take executive action to enhance gun tracing data by requiring federal law enforcement to trace all recovered guns.
- Propose regulations that will enable law enforcement to run complete background checks before returning seized firearms
- Nominate, and call for Congress to confirm, a director for the ATF.
- Call for Congress to remove restrictions that require ATF to authorize importation of dangerous weapons simply because of their age.
- Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
- Direct the Department of Justice to analyze information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
- Provide effective training for state and local law enforcement, first responders, and school officials on how to handle active shooter situations.
END THE FREEZE ON GUN VIOLENCE RESEARCH, INVESTIGATE THE CAUSES AND PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE, AND EXPLORE THE IMPACT OF VIOLENT MEDIA IMAGES AND VIDEO GAMES: For years, Congress has subjected the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to restrictions ensuring it does not "advocate or promote gun control," and some members of Congress have claimed this restriction prohibits the CDC from conducting any research on the causes of gun violence. However, public health research on gun violence is not advocacy. The President is directing the CDC and other research agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence, and the CDC is announcing that they will begin this research. The Administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.
PRESERVE THE RIGHTS OF DOCTORS TO PROTECT THEIR PATIENTS AND COMMUNITIES FROM GUN VIOLENCE: Doctors and other mental health professionals play an important role in protecting the safety of their patients and the broader community. The Administration is clarifying that no federal law in any way prohibits doctors or other health care providers from reporting their patients' threats of violence to the authorities, and issuing guidance making clear that the Affordable Care Act does not prevent doctors from talking to patients about gun safety.
ENCOURAGE GUN OWNERS TO LIVE UP TO THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO STORE GUNS SAFELY: The President believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, and he respects our nation's rich hunting and sport shooting traditions and the millions of responsible Americans who participate in them every year. But this right comes with a responsibility to safely store guns to prevent them from accidentally or intentionally being used to harm others. The Administration is encouraging gun owners to take responsibility for keeping their guns safe and encouraging the development of technology that will make it easier for gun owners to meet this responsibility, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission is assessing the need for new standards for gun locks.
Launch a national responsible gun ownership campaign: The Administration will encourage gun owners to take responsibility for keeping their guns safe with a national campaign. The campaign will promote common-sense gun safety measures like the use of gun safes and trigger locks, separate storage of guns and ammunition, and the reporting of lost and stolen weapons to law enforcement.
Review and enhance as warranted safety standards for gun locks and gun safes: We also need to make sure that gun locks and gun safes work as intended. Several gun locks have been subject to recall due to their failure to function properly; that is not acceptable. The Chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) intends to review the effectiveness of gun locks and gun safes, including existing voluntary industry standards, and take any steps that may be warranted to improve the standards as well as to protect the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death that arise when those products within the CPSC's jurisdiction fail.
Encourage the development of innovative gun safety technology: Despite rapid advances in technologies in recent years, there are few readily available firearms that utilize these new technologies to help guard against unauthorized access and use. The President is directing the Attorney General to work with technology experts to review existing and emerging gun safety technologies, and to issue a report on the availability and use of those technologies. In addition, the Administration will issue a challenge to the private sector to develop innovative and cost-effective gun safety technology and provide prizes for those technologies that are proven to be reliable and effective.
3. MAKING SCHOOLS SAFER
We need to make our schools safer, not only by enhancing their physical security and making sure they are prepared to respond to emergencies like a mass shooting, but also by creating safer and more nurturing school climates that help prevent school violence. Each school is different and should have the flexibility to address its most pressing needs. Some schools will want trained and armed police; others may prefer increased counseling services. Either way, each district should be able to choose what is best to protect its own students.
PUT UP TO 1,000 MORE SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS AND COUNSELORS IN SCHOOLS AND HELP SCHOOLS INVEST IN SAFETY: Putting school resource officers and mental health professionals in schools can help prevent school crime and student-on-student violence. School resource officers are specially trained police officers that work in schools. When equipped with proper training and supported by evidence-based school discipline policies, they can deter crime with their presence and advance community policing objectives. Their roles as teachers and counselors enable them to develop trusting relationships with students that can result in threats being detected and crises averted before they occur. School psychologists, social workers, and counselors can help create a safe and nurturing school climate by providing mental health services to students who need help. Not every school will want police officers or additional school counselors, but we should do what we can to help schools get the staff they determine they need to stay safe.
Take executive action to provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers: COPS Hiring Grants, which help police departments hire officers, can already be used by departments to fund school resource officers. This year, the Department of Justice will provide an incentive for police departments to hire these officers by providing a preference for grant applications that support school resource officers.
Put up to 1,000 new school resource officers and school counselors on the job: The Administration is proposing a new Comprehensive School Safety program, which will help school districts hire staff and make other critical investments in school safety. The program will give $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire school resource officers, school psychologists, social workers, and counselors. The Department of Justice will also develop a model for using school resource officers, including best practices on age-appropriate methods for working with students.
Invest in other strategies to make our schools safer: School districts could also use these Comprehensive School Safety Grants to purchase school safety equipment; develop and update public safety plans; conduct threat assessments; and train "crisis intervention teams" of law enforcement officers to work with the mental health community to respond to and assist students in crisis. And the General Services Administration will use its purchasing power to help schools buy safety equipment affordably.
ENSURE EVERY SCHOOL HAS A COMPREHENSIVE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PLAN: In the unthinkable event of another school shooting, it is essential that schools have in place effective and reliable plans to respond. A 2010 survey found that while 84 percent of public schools had a written response plan in the event of a shooting, only 52 percent had drilled their students on the plan in the past year. We must ensure that every school has a high-quality plan in place and that students and staff are prepared to follow it.
Give schools and other institutions a model for how to develop and implement reliable plans: The Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security will release—by May 2013—a set of model, high-quality emergency management plans for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education, along with best practices for developing these plans and training students and staff to follow them. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Department of Justice, will assist interested schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education in completing their own security assessments.
Help schools develop and implement emergency plans: Congress should provide $30 million of one-time grants to states to help their school districts develop and implement emergency management plans. But schools also need to take responsibility for getting effective plans in place. Going forward, Congress should require states and school districts that receive school safety funding from the Department of Education to have comprehensive, up-to-date emergency plans in place for all of their schools.
CREATE A SAFER CLIMATE AT SCHOOLS ACROSS THE COUNTRY: A report issued by the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education after the Columbine shooting found that one of the best things schools can do to reduce violence and bullying is to improve a school's climate and increase trust and communication between students and staff. Fortunately, we already have evidence-based strategies which have been found to reduce bullying and other problem behaviors like drug abuse or poor attendance, while making students feel safer at school and improving academic performance.
Help 8,000 schools create safer and more nurturing school climates: With technical assistance from the Department of Education, 18,000 schools have already put in place evidence-based strategies to improve school climate. These strategies involve certain steps for the whole school (like consistent rules and rewards for good behavior), with more intensive steps for groups of students exhibiting at-risk behavior, and individual services for students who continue to exhibit troubling behavior. The Administration is proposing a new, $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train their teachers and other school staff to implement these strategies. The Administration will also develop a school climate survey, providing reliable data to help schools implement policies to improve climate.
Share best practices on school discipline: Students who are suspended or expelled are far more likely to repeat a grade, not graduate, or become involved in the juvenile justice system. As a result, effective school discipline policies are critical to addressing school and community crime and violence issues. The Department of Education will collect and disseminate best practices on school discipline polices and help school districts develop and equitably implement their policies.
4. IMPROVING MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
As President Obama said, "We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun." Today, less half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. While the vast majority of Americans with a mental illness are not violent, several recent mass shootings have highlighted how some cases of mental illness can develop into crisis situations if individuals do not receive proper treatment. We need to do more than just keep guns out of the hands of people with serious mental illness; we need to identify mental health issues early and help individuals get the treatment they need before these dangerous situations develop.
MAKE SURE STUDENTS AND YOUNG ADULTS GET TREATMENT FOR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES: Three-quarters of mental illnesses appear by the age of 24, yet less than half of children with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment. And several recent mass shootings, including those at Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, were perpetrated by students or other young people.
Reach 750,000 young people through programs to identify mental illness early and refer them to treatment: We need to train teachers and other adults who regularly interact with students to recognize young people who need help and ensure they are referred to mental health services. The Administration is calling for a new initiative, Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), to provide this training and set up systems to provide these referrals.
This initiative, which would reach 750,000 young people, has two parts:
Provide "Mental Health First Aid" training for teachers: Project AWARE includes $15 million for training for teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness in children and young adults, including how to encourage adolescents and families experiencing these problems to seek treatment.
Make sure students with signs of mental illness get referred to treatment: Project AWARE also includes $40 million to help school districts work with law enforcement, mental health agencies, and other local organizations to assure students with mental health issues or other behavioral issues are referred to the services they need. This initiative builds on strategies that, for over a decade, have proven to decrease violence in schools and increase the number of students receiving mental health services.
Support individuals ages 16 to 25 at high risk for mental illness: Efforts to prevent school shootings and other gun violence can't end when a student leaves high school. Individuals ages 16 to 25 are at high risk for mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide, but they are among the least likely to seek help.
Even those who received services as a child may fall through the cracks when they turn 18. The Administration is proposing $25 million for innovative statebased strategies supporting young people ages 16 to 25 with mental health or substance abuse issues.
Helping schools address pervasive violence: Twenty-two percent of 14 to 17 year olds have witnessed a shooting in their lifetime. Research shows that exposure to community violence can impact children's mental health and development and can substantially increase the likelihood that these children will later commit violent acts themselves. To help schools break the cycle of violence, Congress should provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs, and other schoolbased violence prevention strategies.
Train more than 5,000 additional mental health professionals to serve students and young adults: Experts often cite the shortage of mental health service providers as one reason it can be hard to access treatment. To help fill this gap, the Administration is proposing $50 million to train social workers, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals. This would provide stipends and tuition reimbursement to train more than 5,000 mental health professionals serving young people in our schools and communities.
Launch a national conversation to increase understanding about mental health: The sense of shame and secrecy associated with mental illness prevents too many people from seeking help. The President is directing Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan to launch a national dialogue about mental illness with young people who have experienced mental illness, members of the faith community, foundations, and school and business leaders.
ENSURE COVERAGE OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT: While most mental illnesses are treatable, those with mental illness often can't get needed treatment if they don't have health insurance that covers mental health services. The Affordable Care Act will provide one of the largest expansions of mental health coverage in a generation by extending health coverage to 30 million Americans, including an estimated 6 to 10 million people with mental illness. The Affordable Care Act will also make sure that Americans can get the mental health treatment they need by ensuring that insurance plans cover mental health benefits at parity with other benefits.
Finalize requirements for private health insurance plans to cover mental health services: The Administration will issue final regulations governing how existing group health plans that offer mental health services must cover them at parity under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. In addition, the Affordable Care Act requires all new small group and individual plans to cover ten essential health benefit categories, including mental health and substance abuse services. The Administration intends to issue next month the final rule defining these essential health benefits and implementing requirements for these plans to cover mental health benefits at parity with medical and surgical benefits.
Make sure millions of Americans covered by Medicaid get quality mental health coverage: Medicaid is already the biggest funder of mental health services, and the Affordable Care Act will extend Medicaid coverage to as many as 17 million hardworking Americans. There is some evidence that Medicaid plans are not always meeting mental health parity requirements today, an issue that will only become more important as Medicaid is expanded. The Administration is issuing a letter to state health officials making clear that these plans must comply with mental health parity requirements.
Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions
Today, the President is announcing that he and the Administration will:
1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.