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After weeks of intensive discussion and debate, there is now a $500 million plan. President Obama unveiled a far-reaching agenda today to address gun violence. He spoke to a packed auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and he referenced a string of recent mass shootings, most prominently last month's attack in Newtown, Connecticut. Let's do the right thing, the president said. But the NRA was quick to reject Mr. Obama's plan, and we'll hear from a representative for the firearms industry after this report from NPR's Ari Shapiro.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This event began and ended with memories of the kids who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School a month ago. President Obama talked about them and about the many Americans who've been shot to death since then.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Nine hundred in the past month. And every day we wait, that number will keep growing.
SHAPIRO: The president made it clear that this issue is more than just one thing on his radar. He promised to use whatever weight his office holds to pass this agenda.
OBAMA: This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged.
SHAPIRO: In the last month, his administration met with more than 220 interest groups. The recommendations led to the steps the president announced today, starting with 23 executive actions he's taking on his own. They range from strengthening the background check system to helping schools develop emergency preparedness plans. Some of these steps will be controversial, Mr. Obama said.
OBAMA: While year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it.
SHAPIRO: These steps are the relatively easy stuff and also, the president acknowledged, small stuff.
OBAMA: As important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress.
SHAPIRO: His list for Congress includes a lot of things gun control advocates have failed to accomplish for years: expanding background checks to cover every gun purchase, not just those from licensed dealers; stopping the sale of assault weapons and ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets.
He also called on Congress to confirm a leader for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for the first time in six years. Again and again, the president described these as common-sense measures with support from a majority of Americans. And yet, he said, if they were easy, they'd be done already.
OBAMA: There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty - not because that's true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves.
SHAPIRO: The response from Republicans in Congress was tepid. House leaders said they'll consider whatever comes over from the Senate. And in the Senate, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, accused the president of, quote, "using executive action to attempt to poke holes in the Second Amendment."
Outside of Congress, the pushback was even more intense. The NRA released an ad that begins with the image of a kid's lunchbox bearing the presidential seal.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?
SHAPIRO: White House spokesman Jay Carney called the ad repugnant and cowardly. Children were a big focus today on all sides. Four kids who wrote letters to the president about gun violence sat on the stage next to him with their parents. Mr. Obama talked about their concerns, and he ended with a story about seven-year-old Grace McDonald, who was killed at Sandy Hook last month.
The president met with her parents in Connecticut after the shooting. They told him that Grace dreamed of becoming an artist and gave Mr. Obama one of her paintings.
OBAMA: And I hung it in my private study just off the Oval Office. And every time I look at that painting, I think about Grace, and I think about the life that she lived and the life that lay ahead of her. And most of all, I think about how, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now, for Grace.
SHAPIRO: With that, President Obama signed the executive orders. And now, the action moves to Congress. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.