President Obama is preparing to unveil a comprehensive plan to address gun violence that is expected to include legislation tightening background checks on potential gun buyers, as well as 19 separate actions Obama could take using executive power. At a news conference Monday, Obama confirmed he would support proposals for a new assault weapons ban. He said a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden had presented him with a list of “commonsense steps” to prevent shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Obama also alluded to potential resistance from opponents of gun control.
President Obama: “Part of the challenge that we confront is, is that even the slightest, slightest hint of some sensible, responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that somehow here it comes and that everybody’s guns are going to be taken away. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the case. And if you look at over the first four years of my administration, we’ve tried to tighten up and enforce some of the laws that were already on the books. But it would be pretty hard to argue that somehow gun owners have had their rights infringed.”
A new poll shows that support for gun control measures is on the rise. An ABC News/Washington Post survey found 54 percent of Americans are in favor of stricter gun control laws in general, the highest in five years. Nearly 60 percent support a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.
Amidst the push for greater gun control, many across the country are reportedly rushing to buy guns and ammunition before any potential restrictions kick in. An analysis by an industry trade group found December set a record for the number of criminal background checks often conducted before gun sales, suggesting a massive spike in purchases.
Lawmakers in New York have reached an agreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for what is being hailed as the toughest gun control law in the United States and the first since the massacre in Newtown. Assembly members are expected to vote on the legislative package today after it passed the New York Senate late Monday. The proposal would expand New York’s ban on assault weapons and authorize law enforcement to confiscate guns from mental health patients if a professional reports they are likely to hurt themselves or others.
On Monday, the Newtown massacre’s one-month anniversary, a group of parents of Newtown victims and surviving students unveiled a new initiative to tackle gun violence and mental illness in the United States. Grieving parents Nicole Hockley and Jeremy Richman, as well as the group’s co-founder, Tim Makris, described the Sandy Hook Promise as an effort to spark a national conversation on how to prevent future tragedies.
Nicole Hockley, mother of victim Dylan Hockley: “I do not want to be someone sharing my experience and consoling another parent next time. I do not want there to be a next time. The Sandy Hook Promise is the start of our change.”
Jeremy Richman, father of victim Avielle Richman: “We need to face and take action on hard issues. There is not going to be one simple solution. But we feel it is essential to get a deeper understanding of mental health in terms of research, education and policy.”
Tim Makris, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise: “When you look at what’s been done in the past, it hasn’t gotten us very far. We have to do something different. And we believe a national discussion, putting aside preconceived notions, will have us move forward as a nation.”
Appearing with the Sandy Hook Promise, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy predicted a defeat of NRA efforts to block the approval of a new assault weapons ban.
Sen. Chris Murphy: “It’s the NRA’s job to say that no gun control can pass Congress. But they’re wrong, and they’re going to see they’re wrong as this president brings the full weight of his office to the House and to the Senate and as Republicans and Democrats that previously pledged their fealty to the NRA start turning a different direction. I think today is an important day because it now gives a really clear forum for people across Newtown, across the state and across this nation to make it clear that the status quo is not OK when it comes to the laws on guns in this country.”
New figures show U.S. military suicides broke another all-time record last year. According to the Pentagon, 349 active-duty soldiers took their own lives in 2012, far exceeding the number of U.S. troops killed in battle. The previous record of 310 suicides within army ranks was set in 2009. The figures do not include veterans no longer enlisted in the military.
President Obama has ruled out a new round of talks with Republicans on raising the government’s borrowing limit in return for cuts to government spending. The United States faces a new deadline of potentially defaulting on its debt next month unless the debt ceiling can be increased. Republicans have maintained their stance that any borrowing hike must be offset by slashing government spending. At his White House news conference on Monday, Obama called the Republican demand unacceptable.
President Obama: “Republicans in Congress have two choices here: They can act responsibly and pay America’s bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.”
The death toll from a Syrian government air strike on the northern town of Azaz has reached at least 20 people in addition to around 100 wounded. The victims were gathered in a public market when Syrian warplanes bombed them from the sky Sunday. The group Doctors Without Borders says the attacks followed earlier bombings of local health facilities, making it nearly impossible to adequately treat the victims. On Monday, 151 people, including 21 children, were killed across Syria, according to the opposition group Local Coordination Committees of Syria.
The Israeli military has shot dead a Palestinian teenager in the West Bank. A classmate of the slain teen said soldiers opened fire on a group of students who were throwing stones near the separation barrier. Doctors say 17-year-old Samir Awad was shot three times before he died.
In Egypt, at least 19 people are dead and more than 100 wounded after two railroad cars derailed south of Cairo. State-owned media said the train was carrying Egyptian soldiers en route to Egypt’s capital.
The top U.N. human rights official is calling for an international probe of alleged crimes against humanity by the government of North Korea. On Monday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the probe should focus on North Korea’s notorious, but secretive, prison camps believed to hold up to 200,000 people in brutal conditions. U.N. spokesperson Rupert Colville said an international investigation is long overdue.
Rupert Colville: “Pretty much all we know is coming from refugees who have escaped from North Korea, but the picture they paint is really terrible. You’re talking about a situation that has no parallel anywhere else in the world. The allegations of what’s taking place in North Korea, especially in this prison camp system, are really of enormous gravity and could, in some cases, amount to crimes against humanity.”
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has asked CIA nominee and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to explain the administration’s legal basis for targeting U.S. citizens overseas. On Monday, Wyden released a letter to Brennan ahead of Brennan’s confirmation hearings to head the CIA. Wyden wrote: “For the Executive Branch to claim that intelligence agencies have the authority to knowingly kill American citizens, but refuse to provide Congress with any and all legal opinions that explain … this authority represents an alarming and indefensible assertion of executive prerogative.” Brennan has reportedly overseen the Obama administration’s targeted assassination program, known as the “disposition matrix,” during his White House stint and could likely continue that role at the helm of the CIA.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will remain in her post for Obama’s second term, according to White House officials. Napolitano, who previously served as Arizona governor, has been criticized by immigrant rights advocates for presiding over a record number of deportations in the 2012 fiscal year. In a statement, a representative from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network said: ”ICE is a rogue agency, and Secretary Napolitano has failed to reign it in during her tenure at DHS.” Napolitano’s announcement comes as the Obama administration is said to be preparing to unveil a new push for immigration reform in the coming months.
Federal prosecutors have dropped the charges against computer programmer and cyber-activist Aaron Swartz following his suicide on Friday at the age of 26. In an email to The Boston Globe, his attorney wrote the dismissal was “too little too late,” saying it “would have been welcome this time last week.” Aaron was facing up to 35 years in prison for entering the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and downloading millions of articles provided by the nonprofit research service JSTOR. His family had said prosecutors were partially to blame for his death. A petition on the White House website to remove U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office over alleged overreach in the case has received more than 25,000 signatures, reaching the threshold needed to demand a response from the Obama administration. Tributes to Aaron Swartz are continuing to flood the Internet. Academics have posted links to PDFs of their own copyrighted work using the hashtag “#PDFtribute.” The group Anonymous hacked the MIT website and posted a statement calling the prosecution “a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for.”
A lawyer who represented Aaron Swartz on hacking charges said he told federal prosecutors a year ago that Aaron was at risk of suicide. Attorney Andrew Good told the Associated Press, “Their response was, 'Put him in jail, he’ll be safe there.'”
The indigenous-led “Idle No More” movement in Canada has called a new global day of action for January 28 following a series of events on Friday around the world. Organizers say more than 130 actions were held in Canada and worldwide in solidarity with Idle No More’s call for political transformation, indigenous rights and environmental justice. A key figure in the movement, Chief Theresa Spence, was due to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other First Nations leaders, but pulled out of the meeting over the exclusion of Canada’s governor general and in solidarity with Friday’s protests. Spence remains on a liquid-diet-only hunger strike.
The chief executive of a Tennessee-based company specializing in weapons training has had his gun permit revoked after posting a rant threatening violence should the federal government impose new gun control laws. In his post, James Yeager of the firm Tactical Response vowed to “start killing people” if gun laws are passed.
James Yeager: “I’m telling you that if that happens, it’s going to spark a civil war, and I’ll be glad to fire the first shot. I’m not putting up with it. You shouldn’t put up with it. And I need all you patriots to start thinking about what you’re going to do, load your damn mags, make sure your rifle’s clean, pack a backpack with some food in it, and get ready to fight. I’m not [expletive] putting up with this. I am not letting my country be ruled by a dictator. I’m not letting anybody take my guns! If it goes one inch further, I’m going to start killing people.”
In response, Tennessee officials have suspended Yeager’s weapons permit, citing the risk of public harm.