Obama Unveils Sweeping Gun Control Measures

President Barack Obama demands an assault weapons ban and universal background checks for gun buyers.

Elad Benari ,

Obama unveils a series of proposals to counte
Obama unveils a series of proposals to counte

President Barack Obama on Wednesday demanded an assault weapons ban and universal background checks for gun buyers, stoking a generational clash with the firearms lobby after the Newtown school massacre, AFP reports.

"We can't put this off any longer. I will put everything I've got into this," Obama said, laying out the most sweeping gun control legislation in decades and daring Congress not to defy public outrage and block his plans.

Obama signed 23 executive actions, using his presidential power, in a swift effort to check a rash of gun violence including the killings of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month and other recent mass shootings.

He also challenged Congress to enshrine enduring reforms into law, including renewing and bolstering a ban on assault weapons, and closing loopholes that permit 40 percent of gun sales to take place without background checks.

"This will be difficult," Obama warned, unveiling measures drawn up by a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden at a White House event attended by gun crime victims, including the parents of a girl who perished in Newtown.

"There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty," Obama said.

"Behind the scenes, they'll do everything they can to block any common sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever," Obama said, underlining he did not oppose the right to bear arms laid down in the U.S. Constitution.

The National Rifle Association, the top gun lobby group, warned that only law abiding gun owners would be affected, and "our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy."

Immediate reaction from pro-gun politicians to Obama's plans to curb 11,000 annual firearms homicides in America also hinted at the unpromising political terrain the president's plans face.

Senate Democratic majority leader Harry Reid welcomed the "thoughtful" proposals but gave no commitment to act on specific measures.

While background checks may attract support, a ban on assault weapons could force many Democrats from largely conservative states to unwelcome tough votes in the run-up to the 2014 mid-term election.

Several prominent Republicans rejected Obama's plans out of hand, accusing him of attacking the right to bear arms.

"Guns require a finger to pull the trigger," Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry said, according to AFP.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential hopeful, added, "Guns are not the problem; criminals with evil in their hearts and mentally ill people prone to violence are."

Obama's executive actions, which do not need congressional approval, would require government agencies to make relevant information available for background checks to prevent "dangerous" people getting guns.

Currently, licensed gun sellers are required to run background checks on customers, but private sales of firearms benefit from a loophole.

Obama ordered a new national campaign on safe and responsible gun ownership, a review of standards for gun safes in the home, and new training for schools on how to respond to an invasion by armed assailants.

The president required the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes and prevention of gun violence, after some lawmakers tied the agency's hands in a bid to thwart new gun control measures.

He also urged Congress to renew a ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 and to limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, in a bid to check the damage a shooter could do once engaged in a mass shooting.

The White House complained Wednesday that an NRA attack ad accusing Obama of hypocrisy because his daughters get armed Secret Service protection and other school children do not was "repugnant and cowardly."

Obama's package also seeks to crack down on guns trafficking, calling on lawmakers to equip law enforcement agencies with new powers to prosecute gun criminals.

The new package came one day after New York passed what supporters called the toughest gun ownership law in the country, becoming the first U.S. state to impose new restrictions.

Lawmakers in the lower house of the State Assembly voted 104-43 in favor of the measure, which includes a full ban on sales of military-style rifles.

It also came one day after a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon in the parking lot of a Kentucky community college, killing two people and injuring a third in what police said was likely a domestic incident.

The shooting rocked the campus of Hazard Community and Technical College in the early evening. The victims were described as a man in his 50s and a 20-year-old woman. A teenage girl was injured and taken to hospital for treatment.