Pres. Obama Addresses Gun Violence at State of the Union Address

January 12th 2016

At President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address on Tuesday, a chair in First Lady Michelle Obama's guest box was left empty on purpose to commemorate the victims of gun violence in the U.S.

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The symbolic gesture was meant to reinforce Obama's message about the importance of gun law reform in the face of unprecedented mass shootings in the country. Earlier this month, the president made an impassioned call for common sense legislation in order to limit the ability of criminals and people with mental illnesses to obtain firearms. He plans to use executive action to expand background checks and close loopholes at gun shows and online.

"I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing," Obama said. "Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage. All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done."

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There were more than 350 mass shootings in the U.S. last year — more than any other industrialized country in the world. And while as many as 92 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers, efforts to pass even modest reform measures have been derailed, due in large part to lobbying from the gun industry.

The White House announced on Sunday that a seat would be left intentionally vacant to honor "the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice — because they need the rest of us to speak for them."

"To tell their stories. To honor their memory," the White House added. "To support the Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the terrible ripple effect of gun violence — survivors who’ve had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life. To remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this."

RELATED: Pres. Obama Asked Us to Compare Gun Deaths to Deaths From Terrorism. Here It Is.

This isn't the first symbolic use of an empty chair as a political statement. A seat in Former First Lady Laura Bush's guest box was left empty during a State of the Union address in 2003, to represent "the empty place many Americans will always have at their tables and in their lives because of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001." And the phrase "empty chair" itself is often used by media in reference to a politician's strengths and weaknesses, The Washington Post reported.

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