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Louisiana rates second-highest in gun deaths, report says

11th January 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Della Hasselle
Contributing Writer

Wiping tears from his face, President Barack Obama last Tuesday made an effort to tighten gun sales in the United States, using his executive powers in lieu of more severe firearms restrictions Congress has repeatedly rebuked.

Speaking to an audience packed with families of gun violence and gun control advocates, as well as gun owners, Obama’s voice rose at times as he reflected on the December 2012 massacre at an elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, as part of an emotional plea for Americans to take further action with their votes in the upcoming presidential election.Gun-violence-butt-of-a-gun-

“First-graders,” Obama said to the crowd, recalling the mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults, as he wiped away tears. “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad.”

At the center of Obama’s executive order is an expansion of background checks which will now be required for Americans wanting to purchase guns. The executive order clarifies current law, expanding the list of gun sellers who must be licensed and provide those checks, as an attempt to restrict unlicensed sellers who take advantage of an exception restrict unlicensed sellers who take advantage of an exception allowed for hobbyists and collectors.

The announcement came on the heels of a report released by the Violence Policy Center, a research organization, which found that states with weak gun laws and higher gun ownership lead the nation in gun deaths.

Louisiana was only second to Alaska on that list, which was compiled using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2014, and factored in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings.

Last year, Louisiana had more than 19 gun deaths per 100,000 residents, with 49 percent of all households owning guns, according to the VPC.

“Year after year, the evidence is clear that states with fewer guns and strong gun laws have far lower rates of gun death,” said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “States with strong gun violence prevention laws consistently have the lowest gun death rates in the nation. In states with weak gun laws and easy availability of guns, the rates of death by gunfire are far higher.”

Before Obama issued the executive order last Tuesday, the law required that anyone “engaged in the business” of selling guns must be licensed and provide background checks. But because the law failed to identify exactly who was “engaged in the business” of selling guns, it allowed for a loophole that let some gun merchants operate without a license.

On last Tuesday, Obama said he would strengthen gun laws as a way to prevent crime by people he said “never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place.”

As part of his executive order, Obama said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is now working to make sure no matter where guns are sold—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet—individuals purchasing the firearms have to get a license and are subject to background checks, even if the guns are being bought through a corporation or trust.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has also sent a letter to the 50 states, Obama said, highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records, information on persons disqualified because of a mental illness, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence. And the FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners to help process background checks.

And through a memorandum also released Tuesday, Obama ordered the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General and The Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology that would reduce accidental discharge of firearms and improve the tracing of lost or stolen guns.

In the document, Obama said that although background checks have been a “critical effort” in addressing gun violence, more was needed to keep guns out of the “wrong hands.”

“Tens of thousands of people are still injured or killed by firearms every year—in many cases by guns that were sold legally but then stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally,” Obama wrote in the memo. “Developing and promoting technology that would help prevent these tragedies is an urgent priority.”

Blasting Congress and the gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association, Obama acknowledged that tougher gun control actions – such as ones requested in a bill Congress shot down in 2013 – would require legislative action, which isn’t expected to transpire during his final year in office.

And several Republican officials said even last Tuesday’s actions would likely be challenged in the courts, or overturned by another president, were a Republican to succeed him.

Regardless, the president’s effort to tighten gun control elicited a combative tone from gun supporters and lobbyists, who accused Obama of acting in government overreach and restricting constitutionally protected Second Amendment rights.

Among those who spoke against Obama’s actions was Congressman Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana who accused the president of attempting to distract the American people from a failed record by circumventing Congress.

“It is insulting to the American people that President Obama is attempting to take away the constitutionally protected rights of law-abiding citizens in an obvious effort to change the subject away from his failure to keep America safe from radical Islamic terrorists,” Rep. Scalise said. “I will do everything in my power to block any attempt by this President to restrict our Second Amendment rights, while our Republican-led House will continue focusing on ways to strengthen our military so we can secure our borders and defeat ISIS.”

Three of the state’s most popular gun show promoters also spoke out on Wednesday, accusing the country’s leader of government overreach. They went on to say that further restricting gun sales in the manner Obama proposed is “unnecessary,” and won’t make a significant dent in the number of gun sales at their events, according to an article published by The New Orleans Advocate.

But Obama’s actions received a plethora of support, too, as politicians and other influential community members heralded new rules.

Several brought up America’s rate of gun deaths. According to the VPC, the number of Americans killed by gunfire dipped to 33,599 in 2014 from 33,636 in 2013.

Still, at 10.54 deaths per 100,000, the 2014 rate dwarfed that of other industrialized nations, the report said. According the latest data available, the gun death rate in the United Kingdom was 0.23 per 100,000 in 2011, and in Australia the gun death rate was 0.93 per 100,000 in 2013.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network, called on Republicans in Congress to stop what he called “obstructionism” and to take legislative action to further tighten gun control in America in order to save lives.

“From tragic mass killings in Charleston, Sandy Hook and San Bernardino to the everyday carnage in inner cities, we clearly cannot allow this violent trend to continue,” Sharpton said. “Republicans who are beholden to the gun lobby must not be allowed to block the common-sense laws we need to protect Americans. It is now time for Congress to wake up and pass legislation to expand background checks, keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill and ban the sale of the most powerful weapons.”

This article originally published in the January 11, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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