barack obama in tears
U.S. President Barack Obama wipes a tear after mentioning the first-graders killed in the Newtown shootings. Obama announced a series of executive orders on gun control Tuesday, while urging greater action by congress. Admitting that such action would not come during his presidency, he implied that the Nov. 2016 elections could serve as a referendum on gun control. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In an historic speech on gun control, Barack Obama unveiled a series of unilateral executive orders aimed at reducing firearm deaths. The unilateral actions, which the White House argues do not need congressional approval, include tightening loopholes around background checks, investing $500 million increase in mental health funding, a increasing the number of ATF agents by 200. More than an unrolling of these modest measures, Obama’s speech seemed to be his last stand on an issue that has haunted his two terms in office. Addressing a group of gun violence survivors and families of victims, Obama called for a balance between competing rights for individual freedom.

Obama argued that Second-Amendment (gun rights) advocates succeed in stripping away other rights, highlighting mass shootings from contemporary American history. He highlighted shootings in Charleston, where a white supremacist assailant killed members of a congregation of African-America churchgoers who had invited the shooter to pray.

“Our right to peaceful assembly -- those rights were stripped from moviegoers in Aurora,” Obama added, naming other shootings, from Columbine to Newtown. “And from first-graders.”

Mentioning the first-graders who were shot and killed in the Sand Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, Obama teared up. A gun control bill introduced following the Sandy Hook shooting failed to pass the Republican-controlled house. It would have banned assault rifles and certain type of ammunition and magazines.

“I get mad every time I think about that,” he said. “And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”

Obama acknowledged that the modest measures put forward on Tuesday wouldn’t solve the gun violence problem in America, and admitted that he wouldn’t pass meaningful gun control legislation before he leave office in January of 2017.

“It won’t happen overnight [...] it won’t happen in my presidency,” he said.

Republicans immediately rebuked Obama’s measures.

"From day one, the President has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wi.) said in a statement . "He knows full well that the law already says that people who make their living selling firearms must be licensed, regardless of venue. Still, rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty."

The National Rifle Association, a Second-Amendment lobby group responded to Obama’s in on Twitter as he delivered the speech.

The NRA is expected to challenge Obama’s executive actions in court.

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