WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama Tuesday announced new executive actions intended to reduce the number of mass shootings, suicides and killings that have become routine in the communities across the country, focusing on the victims of gun violence in an event intended to prod Congress to take further action.

Speaking at the White House to an audience packed with the families of gun violence victims, gun owners and gun control advocates, an often emotional Obama singled out former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona, five years ago.

“I know the pain that she and her family have endured these past five years,” Obama said. “And then I think of all the Americans who are not as fortunate. Every single year, 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by gun violence.”

The executive actions - first previewed by the White House on Monday - would attempt to clamp down on unlicensed gun sellers who exploit an exception for hobbyists and collectors in order to avoid having to run criminal background checks on gun purchasers. Many of those sellers, Obama said, are running a business by selling guns at gun shows and online. “The problem is that some gun sellers have been operating by a different set of rules,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Obama said the administration is also beefing up enforcement, streamlining the background check system, investing $500 million in mental health care and researching “smart gun” technology. “If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure they can’t pull a trigger on a gun,” he said.

Obama said the actions he’s taking are consistent with gun rights. “I believe in the Second Amendment. It’s there written on paper. It guarantees the right to bear arms.

No matter how much people try to twist my words around, I taught constitutional law, I know a little bit about this. I get it,” he said. “This is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns.”

Obama argued that just like the First Amendment doesn’t allow someone to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, there are common-sense measures that could keep guns out out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. And he argued that Second Amendment rights shouldn’t infringe on the rights of people to safely worship in Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Sikh temples and Muslim mosques — all of which have been targets of gun violence in recent years.

But Obama said any real solution would require congressional action. “Instead of focusing on how to solve the problem, this has become one of out most polarized, partisan debates,” Obama said a tone that moved from exasperation to incredulity. “How did we get here? How did we get to the place where people think expanded background checks is an excuse to take away people’s guns?” He called on Americans to “demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.”

Congressional Republicans had a mixed reaction to Obama’s announcement. “The president’s actions are out of bounds and vastly exceed his executive authority,” said House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, who promised vigorous oversight hearings. But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, also a Republican, called the additional guidance on firearms licenses a “weak gesture” that falls short of what Obama really wanted to accomplish. Obama was introduced by Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son Daniel was shot and killed at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. “The fact of the matter is, every gun related death is preventable,” he said.

Obama has often said his toughest time in office was grappling with the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.”Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said, tears rolling down his cheek.”That changed me, that day,” he said. “My hope earnestly has been that it would change the country.”

After that tragedy, the Democratic president failed to persuade Congress to toughen U.S. gun laws. He has blamed lawmakers for being in the thrall of the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby group. He said Americans need to be “just as passionate” as the NRA in changing gun laws, but acknowledged it won’t happen during his final year in office.