President Barack Obama proposed the most ambitious set of gun control proposals in decades, calling for a renewal of a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and setting out 23 executive actions
he’ll take such as ordering agencies to share data for background checks and addressing mental health issues.
In the aftermath of the shooting of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, Obama said Congress should act on legislation that also would make background checks required for all gun buyers and restore a 10-round limit for magazines. He ordered a review of standards for gun locks, tracing of guns recovered in criminal investigations and a study on the causes and prevention of gun violence.
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“I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality,” Obama said of his proposals at an event that included children from across the country who the White House said wrote to the president about their concerns after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
By introducing the new measures just days before his inauguration, Obama is placing the gun debate at the top of his second-term agenda. He and his congressional allies face strong opposition, particularly in the Republican-run House, to his legislative proposals. Supporters in the Senate lack the 60 votes needed to advance major legislation there.
It has been almost two decades since Congress passed a major rewrite of U.S. gun laws, with the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun lobby, has been successful at influencing lawmakers through campaign contributions and its grassroots network of 4 million members.
“We’ll probably have some close votes but, certainly at this point, the odds would be against passage,” said Representative John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican.
The shooter in Newtown, Adam Lanza, used a military-style Bushmaster semiautomatic AR-15 rifle and had ammunition magazines that held 30 rounds. Democrats insist that tragedy has shaken the political ground in Congress and created an opening for action. The weapon was purchased legally by his mother, according police.
“The challenge is to sustain that,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who’s spent much of his time on the issue since the Dec. 14 shootings.
Blumenthal and other Democrats have identified expanded background checks and limits on high-capacity assault magazines as areas that could attract bipartisan support.
Renewing the assault weapons ban will be the toughest provision and may not be achievable, said Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat whose husband was murdered in a 1993 mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road.
“You have to take a look at your options,” said McCarthy, who is also serving on the House gun violence panel. “If we can’t lift it to get it done, then hopefully we’ll go for the large magazines.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who Obama asked to come up with recommendations after the Newtown shooting, addressed the families of victims of the mass killing. The administration will “do everything in our power to honor the memory of your children,” Biden said.
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“I have no illusions to what we’re up against,” he said. “We should do as much as we can as quickly as we can.”
In a sign of the intensity of the battle ahead, the National Rifle Association yesterday released an ad labeling Obama an “elitist hypocrite” because his own children receive armed protection.
Without identifying Obama’s two young daughters by name or the Washington school they attend, the narrator of an NRA video on its website asks: “Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools, when his kids are protected by armed guards at their schools?”
Obama’s spokesman said the president’s children shouldn’t be “pawns in a political fight.”
“To go so far as to make the safety of the President’s children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
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