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Obama responds to We the People gun control petition

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The White House published a text and video response early Friday to 32 petitions posted to its We the People website in the days following the murders of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Among the petitions included in the response was the second most popular petition ever posted to the White House’s 16-month old website. It asked the president to “Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress.”

The response, which arrived on the one week anniversary of the Newtown attack, included a video message from President Obama and a statement from White House Chief of Staff Bruce Reed. The statement and video both highlighted the president’s earlier pledge to introduce legislation in January that includes a ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips as well as improved access to mental health services.

The statement linked to a separate White House page where citizens can share their thoughts on how best to reduce gun violence. It’s not clear precisely how the administration plans to use citizen input from the site.

“We started We the People so that you could directly petition your government on the matters you care about the most, so that you could make your voice heard,” Obama said in his response. “And in the days since the heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, Conn., hundreds of thousands of you from all 50 states have signed petitions asking us to take serious steps to address the epidemic of gun violence in this country.”

Twelve of the 32 petitions included in the response urged increased restrictions on gun ownership and eight urged maintaining current laws or increasing gun rights. Another 12 petitions advocated for increased school security including arming teachers and hiring armed guards. Five petitions urged improved mental health care.

The president began his explanation by stating he does not intend to curtail the majority of gun ownership rights.

“The fact is most gun owners in America are responsible,” he said. “They buy their guns legally and they use them safely. It’s encouraging that many gun owners this week have stepped up to say there are steps we can take to prevent more tragedies like the one in Newtown, steps that both protect our rights and protect our kids.”

Friday’s response did not address several petitions urging the government to take actions to prevent the Westboro Baptist Church from picketing the funerals of Sandy Hook victims. One of those petitions, which asked the president to designate the church as a hate group, is now the most popular petition ever posted to We the People with 234,000 signatures.

Church members believe the Sandy Hook murders and the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are God’s punishment for the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality and divorce. Obama signed a bill in August restricting protests within 300 feet of military funerals but a 2011 Supreme Court ruling found the Westboro protests fell under the First Amendment’s free speech protections.

In closing his video message Friday, Obama urged petition signers to contact their members of Congress and lobby for gun control.

“I’ll do everything in my power as president to advance these efforts,” he said, “because if there’s even one thing we can do as a country to protect our children we have a responsibility to try.”

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