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An Update on What We're Doing to Keep Guns Out of the Wrong Hands

In January, President Obama announced new actions to protect our children and communities from gun violence. Today, we're announcing important progress on those steps.

Ed. note: updated 6/20/16

Watch Vice President Biden speak on the assault weapons ban

On Friday, June 17, Vice President Joe Biden sent a message to people who, in the wake of the tragic attack in Orlando, signed a We the People petition calling on the government to ban AR-15-type assault weapons from civilian ownership.

"Over the past few years, we've watched as new horrific shootings have replaced previous ones as the deadliest in our nation's history.

"We've waged campaign after campaign to turn our grief into action — each time thinking maybe, just maybe, this will be the one that breaks through. This will be the one that gets through to Congress, which must ultimately act. We've used phrases like Now is the Time. Stop Gun Violence. Enough is Enough.

"Folks, enough has been enough for a long time.

"You know that. On Monday, in the wake of this latest, deadliest, mass shooting, you started this petition. You worked together, calling on your government to ban AR-15-type weapons from civilian ownership. In the days following, we have seen members of the United States Senate take and hold the floor, refusing to back down, refusing to concede that we might need to wait for an even bigger national tragedy to finally make some changes.

"To the creator and signers of this petition, I want to say this as plainly and clearly as possible: The President and I agree with you. Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines should be banned from civilian ownership."

Continue reading the Vice President's message to petition signers.

Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns. Whether it is from suicide, domestic violence, a gang shootout, or an accident, too many Americans have lost loved ones, including too many precious children. Many have had to learn to live with a disability, or help a loved one do what was once effortless.

That’s why in January, President Obama outlined a number of new, commonsense steps that his Administration is taking to protect our children and communities from gun violence. Today, we are announcing important progress in implementing those steps.

The Obama Administration is taking action to keep guns out of the wrong hands by: boosting the development of smart gun technology and ensuring that the background check system gets appropriate federal mental health records of people prohibited from buying guns

First, smart gun technology. A significant number of gun deaths occur every year because someone other than the gun’s owner was handling it – whether it’s a child who finds a gun at home and shoots it accidentally, or the criminals who obtain stolen or trafficked firearms. So the President took action to boost the development of smart gun and gun safety technology that can prevent these deaths from happening.

“If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns? If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun.”
President Obama

He then issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the Departments of Defense (DOD), Homeland Security (DHS), and Justice (DOJ) to prepare a report outlining a strategy for expediting the real-world deployment of smart gun technology.

Today, those agencies are releasing that report. Here are the highlights:

  • DOJ and DHS have begun a process to define, for the first time, the requirements that manufacturers would need to meet for federal, state, and municipal law enforcement agencies to consider purchasing firearms with enhanced safety technology.  They’ve committed to completing that process by October, and will also identify agencies interested in taking part in a pilot program to develop the technology.
  • DOD will continue to help manufacturers test “smart” firearms under real-world conditions at the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland.  Manufacturers may be eligible to win cash prizes through this program as well.
  • The Federal Government stands ready to assist state and local governments as smart gun technology continues to be developed. In the report, DOJ has indicated that state and local governments could apply certain federal grants to the purchase of new firearms, including those equipped with advanced safety technology.

Together, these actions have the potential to jumpstart the development of proven gun safety technologies that can save lives and preserve the effectiveness of our firearms. There is no problem that America’s innovators cannot solve, and we are confident that by focusing the private sector’s attention on smart gun technology, we will unlock life-saving innovations.

Even apart from the steps announced by President Obama earlier this year, including additional efforts to promote smart gun technology, DOJ’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will continue to support a broad range of research to better understand gun violence in our country. For example, NIJ has indicated that it anticipates awarding up to $3 million to support investigator-initiated research to “strengthen our knowledge base and improve public safety by producing findings with practical implications for reducing firearms violence.” As in so many other areas of life, this important research and science can help keep us all safe.

Second, mental illness. In January, the President called for a new $500 million investment in mental health treatment and underscored the increased mental health coverage that the Affordable Care Act has made possible. While recognizing that individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, he also made clear that we do need to do a better job of ensuring that those who are already prohibited by law from buying a gun cannot obtain one.

“We’re going to ensure that federal mental health records are submitted to the background check system, and remove barriers that prevent states from reporting relevant information.”
President Obama

Today, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is moving forward with one important aspect of those efforts by publishing a proposed rule to help ensure appropriate information in its records is reported to the background check system about individuals prohibited from buying a gun. The rule would also provide a way for people to seek relief from the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm for reasons related to mental health. This is just the first step in the rulemaking process. Once the rule publishes in the Federal Register, the public has 60 days to comment on the proposal to ensure SSA can incorporate feedback from a broad range of stakeholders before finalizing the rule.

Third, engagement with state and local leaders. I’m proud to announce that in May, the White House will host a 50-State Gun Violence Prevention Convening. We will bring together state and local elected officials, including governors, attorneys general, state legislators, and city and county officials, who have been leaders in the fight to save lives from gun violence.  The agenda will focus on state and local efforts to prevent gun violence through legislative and executive actions, including those focused on reducing gun violence in domestic abuse incidents and furthering research and development of smart gun technologies.  Participants will also have an opportunity to discuss ways states can improve their reporting to the background check system, particularly in light of new data recently released by DOJ about the number of records each state has submitted to a key national database.

We will never be able to stop every form of violence, but when we can take action to save even one life, we owe it to every American to do so.  That’s why the President has been so committed to doing everything within his authority to keep our country safe – and why he will continue to call on Congress to pass the kind of commonsense reforms supported by the vast majority of the American people. The actions the Administration takes will help make our communities safer and keep more guns out of the hands of folks who shouldn’t have them. That is just common sense.