President Barack Obama launched the biggest U.S. gun-control push in generations on Wednesday, urging Congress to approve an assault weapons ban and background checks for all gun buyers to prevent mass shootings like the Newtown school massacre.
Rolling out a wide-ranging plan for executive and legislative action to curb gun violence, Obama set up a fierce clash with the powerful U.S. gun lobby and its supporters in Congress, who will resist what they see as an encroachment on constitutionally protected gun rights.
Obama presented his agenda at a White House event in front of an audience that included relatives of some of the 20 first graders who were killed along with six adults by a gunman on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
His plan calls on Congress to renew a prohibition on assault weapons sales that expired in 2004, require criminal background checks on all gun purchases, including closing a loophole for gun show sales, and pass a new federal gun trafficking law - long sought by big-city mayors to keep out-of-state guns off their streets.
He also announced 23 steps he intends to take immediately without congressional approval. These include improving the existing system for background checks, lifting the ban on federal research on gun violence, putting more counselors and “resource officers” in schools and better access to mental health services.
The most contentious piece of the package is Obama’s call for a renewed ban on military-style assault weapons, a move that is unlikely to win approval because Republicans who control the House of Representatives are expected to oppose it.
The Newtown gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15 type assault rifle to shoot his victims, most of them 6- and 7-year-olds, before killing himself.
Law enforcement experts have noted, however, that the tighter background checks that Obama is proposing would not have prevented the Connecticut school massacre because the gunman’s weapon was purchased legally by his mother.
Administration officials sketched out legislative goals in a conference call with reporters but offered no draft legislation or any clear explanation of how they would overcome the hurdles. They said the list of executive actions would cost $500 million in the federal budget for the 2014 fiscal year.
With gun ownership rights enshrined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, gun restrictions have long been a divisive - and risky - issue in American politics.
Obama acknowledged the political challenges but made clear he is prepared to take on the NRA, despite its support among Republicans and significant backing among Democrats.
He warned that opponents of his effort would try to “gin up fear” and urged lawmakers to put children’s safety above getting an ‘A’ grade from the gun lobby that supports their campaign.”
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