WASHINGTON -- An emotional President Barack Obama on Tuesday bypassed Capitol Hill and unveiled a unilateral initiative designed to curb gun violence in the U.S. through a series of executive actions.
In an effort to expand background checks for buyers, the White House introduced a new requirement for individuals "in the business of selling firearms" to register as licensed gun dealers, effectively narrowing the so-called "gun show loophole," which exempts most small sellers from keeping formal sales records.
Obama was greeted by a standing ovation when he began speaking, explaining his new orders. Mark Barden, a father of one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, introduced Obama.
Barden in his introduction spoke of how Obama's administration made a commitment to fight widespread gun violence.
"Today, we celebrate another example of how President Obama and Vice President Biden continue to keep that promise," Barden said.
Obama grew emotional in describing the children who died at Sandy Hook.
"Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad," Obama said, pausing to wipe away tears. "By the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day."
Former Congresswoman and gun control advocate Gabby Giffords was in attendance and was greeted with a standing ovation from the White House audience.
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett defended Obama's plans Tuesday, saying the president's actions are "well within the existing statute."
"The President isn't circumventing Congress -- he is doing what is clearly in his authority to do," Jarrett said. "Ultimately the best solution would be for Congress to act. But the president is determined to do whatever is in his power to keep guns out of the wrong hands."
Obama said that despite his executive actions bypassing Congress on guns, lawmakers still need to address the issue.
"Congress still needs to act," Obama said. "The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does. Because once Congress gets on board with common-sense gun safety measures, we can reduce gun violence a whole lot."
"But we also can't wait," Obama added. "Until we have the Congress that's in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives."
Obama defended his actions to strengthen background checks for purchasing guns, answering critics who say the measure would not make it harder for criminals to obtain firearms.
"Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying," Obama said. "I reject that thinking."
"We know we can't stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence," he added.
Obama said his new executive actions do not conflict with the Second Amendment.
"I believe in the Second Amendment, there written on paper, that guarantees the right to bear arms," Obama said. "No matter how many times people try to twist my words around, that's our constitutional law. I know a little bit about this. But I also believe that we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment."
Obama answered his critics, adding "this is not a plot to take away everybody's guns."
Obama said the United States must feel a "sense of urgency" in addressing the wave of mass shootings in recent years.
"We do have to feel a sense of urgency about it," Obama said. "In Dr. King's words, we need to feel the fierce urgency of now."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, criticized the president's plans for choosing executive action over working with Congress.
"While we don't yet know the details of the plan, the President is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will," Ryan said in a statement before Obama met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday.
"His proposals to restrict gun rights were debated by the United States Senate, and they were rejected. No president should be able to reverse legislative failure by executive fiat, not even incrementally."
In addition to expanding and bolstering the background check system, the administration is also expected provide more funding for mental health treatment, FBI staff and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives agents.
Many polls have found broad support for expanded background checks -- the most recent being a Quinnipiac University poll in December. In that survey, 89 percent overall support it, 84 percent in gun-owning households, 87 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of independents and 95 percent of Democrats.
In a December CNN/ORC poll, 48 percent of Americans said they were in favor of stricter gun control laws, 51 percent were opposed.
Support for stricter laws has been less than half since 2013. There's a sharp partisan divide on the question, with 74 percent of Democrats in favor of stricter laws, while just 23 percent of Republicans feel the same way.
Among those who live in a gun-owning household, 29 percent favor stricter laws, that rises to 65 percent among those who live in households where no one owns a gun.
Just 35 percent approve of Obama's handling of gun policy, including 56 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of liberals. That's well below his approval rating among Democrats/liberals for other top issues.