WASHINGTON — Soon after President Barack Obama announced new executive actions Tuesday designed to curb gun violence in America, Jewish groups that have long supported strengthening gun safety regulations praised the president for moving forward on the issue.
“While it has been extremely frustrating to watch Congress not act on this problem, we are encouraged to see the president take the steps he is now taking,” Jared Feldman, vice president and Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, told The Times of Israel.
“Making background checks as universal and comprehensive as possible is really important, providing access to mental health care services is really important and enforcing the laws that we currently do have is critical,” he added.
From the East Room of the White House, President Obama was surrounded by activists and those who have lost loved ones to mass shootings as he explained the measures he would enact on his own after years of trying to shepherd a comprehensive bill through Congress.
The executive action includes expanding background checks for gun buyers and requiring all persons who are “in the business of selling firearms” to be licensed gun dealers — an attempt to close what is called the “gun show loophole.”
Additionally, the FBI will hire 230 more people to help run background checks, the Department of Health and Human Services will remove barriers between the federal background check system and health record privacy laws and more federal dollars will be poured into research on gun violence and mental health.
Obama invoked the history of mass shootings that have afflicted the country during his presidency. He had to pause as he spoke about the 20 children who were murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” he said, with tears streaming down his face.
Other groups that lauded the president’s actions were the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the political arm of Reform Judaism in the United States, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Council of Jewish Women and Jewish Women International.
Despite RAC director Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner’s preference of seeing “bipartisan legislative action” to address the gun issue in America, he “commended” the president moving without the legislative branch of government.
“The ongoing obstinance among members of Congress make[s] the steps announced today by President Obama necessary,” he said in a statement, “even as we know more must be done to meet the scope of the crisis.”
Another organization that has strongly supported more rigorous gun safety regulations in the past, the Anti-Defamation League put out a statement by National Chair Marvin Nathan and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt “welcoming” the president’s actions.
“It is long past the time when we can simply condemn the Sandy Hook or Charleston or San Bernardino shooters and mourn the victims. We owe it to those victims and to ourselves to find a way to meaningfully advance gun violence prevention efforts before the next tragedy,” the statement said.
The ADL also released a report Tuesday claiming that 2015 was the deadliest year for domestic extremist violence in the last two decades. “Overwhelmingly the extremist weapon of choice in 2015 – as in virtually every year – was firearms,” it said.
Since President Obama began his second term, five weeks after the Newtown shooting claimed 26 lives, he has been unable to pass an extensive gun safety package through Congress, a reality he lamented Tuesday.
“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage, but they cannot hold America hostage,” he said.
The president’s announcement was immediately criticized by Republican presidential contenders, such as business magnate Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as an infringement of Second Amendment protections, along with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said the measures will “no doubt be challenged in the courts.”