Acting just a month after the Connecticut school shootings, President Obama will unveil a sweeping package of gun controls Wednesday and will challenge Congress to ban high-capacity magazines and military-style semi-automatic rifles involved in recent shooting rampages.
Mr. Obama, who will make his announcement surrounded by children who wrote letters to him about gun violence, is expected to propose some moves he can take on his own. He also will demand that Congress break a decades-long refusal and enact the first new controls on firearms and ammunition since the early 1990s.
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States are acting already.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed into law the strictest gun-control measures in the country, which will ban assault weapons, restrict ammunition and move to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms.
“I am proud to be a New Yorker today,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We can strike back, and we can defend ourselves, but we’re going to do it intelligently, and we’re going to do it prudently. Common sense can win. And good people can win.”
Similar proposals are likely to meet stiff resistance on Capitol Hill, where the Senate’s top Democrat has said the ban on semi-automatic “assault weapons” has little chance of passing. Lawmakers have jealously guarded their powers when it comes to action on gun regulations.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama is itching to have that fight anyway.
“If renewal of the assault weapons ban were easily accomplished, it would not need renewing because it would have happened already,” Mr. Carney said. “The fact of the matter is the president’s committed to pushing these proposals. He is not naive about the challenges that exist.”
Gun owners also are gearing up to defend what they call an essential right guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
In a statement, the National Rifle Association called Mr. Cuomo’s package “draconian” and said the new law “will have no impact on public safety and crime.”
“Sadly, the New York Legislature gave no consideration to that reality,” the statement read. “While lawmakers could have taken a step toward strengthening mental health reporting and focusing on criminals, they opted for trampling the rights of law-abiding gun owners in New York.”
Mr. Obama will be accompanied Wednesday by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who spearheaded a task force on the issue after 20 children and six adults were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. Family members and children from across the country who wrote letters to Mr. Obama about gun violence and school safety also will attend.
The president’s package also could include a number of the 19 separate steps Mr. Biden outlined to some members of Congress on Monday that could be taken without Congress‘ approval, such as stricter enforcement of gun-trafficking laws and a push for more federal research on gun control.
Even as details of his plan trickle out, political realities will dictate what Mr. Obama is ultimately able to accomplish on an issue that has been left essentially untouched since a 1994 assault-weapons ban expired in 2004. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said late last week that the Democrat-controlled Senate will act only on measures that can pass the Republican-led House, and was less than optimistic about renewing the ban.
“Is it something that can pass the Senate? Maybe. Something that can pass the House? I doubt it,” he said in an interview with Las Vegas public television. “I think we have to be very cool and cautious.”
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Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat, said he thought there was “at least a 50-50 chance” of passing such a ban and that Congress also could limit magazine sizes, give the government more authority to track gun purchases and close the so-called gun-show loophole that lets private dealers sell firearms without requiring background checks.
Republicans criticized those efforts and warned Mr. Obama against trying to do too much through executive authority.
“I’m very worried about what they might produce,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Kansas Republican. “I’m guessing if he’s going to do this, he’s probably going to go well beyond the authority that was granted to him by the Congress or the Constitution.”
Some Republicans went on the offensive. Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, said he would reintroduce a bill to repeal a federal law that prohibits people from knowingly carrying guns into school zones.
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