In State of Union, Obama to leave empty seat to honor gun victims, underscore gun control effort
President Obama will keep an empty seat next to the first lady on Tuesday when he gives his State of the Union address, to represent victims of gun violence, according to the White House.
Obama, who is trying to reduce gun violence by issuing a series of executive orders to tighten federal gun laws, announced the symbolic gesture Friday when talking on the phone with fellow supporters of more stringent gun-ownership laws.
A White House official said the president told the supporters the open seat in first lady Michelle Obama’s viewing box was for “the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice -- because they need the rest of us to speak for them.”
Presidents have long invited prominent individuals and average Americans to sit with the first lady, often as a way to underscore a theme.
Obama, in his final 11 months of office, says he’s using his White House powers to change gun laws because Congress has failed to act.
The State of the Union addresses are given in the House chambers. And as an apparent attempt to express his dissatisfaction with Congress, Obama also said the open seat should serve to “remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this,” the official said.
Obama intends to tighten the guns laws with a 10-point plan that side-steps Congress and focuses on requiring small-scaler sellers to get a federal license and submit background checks on potential buyers.
His tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to tighten gun-control laws in the wake of the 2012 shooting massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school, in Newtown, Conn.
And his new effort is also facing strong opposition from Republicans, the National Rifle Association and even some Democrats who say it's up to Congress to enact new policies on firearms.
The other parts of Obama’s executive action include having the FBI hire 230 more employees to process background checks. He’s also directing federal agencies to research smart gun technology to reduce accidental shootings and asking Congress for $500 million for mental health care.
Obama also want to better track lost guns and prevent trusts or corporations from buying dangerous weapons without background checks.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.