WASHINGTON, Jan 17 – President Barack Obama on Wednesday demanded an assault weapons ban and universal background checks for gun buyers as part of sweeping gun control measures in response to the Newtown school massacre.
“We can’t put this off any longer. I will put everything I’ve got into this,” Obama said, daring Congress not to defy public outrage and block his plans and setting the stage for a generational fight with the US gun lobby.
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.
And he 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 commonsense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever,” Obama said, underlining he did not oppose the right to bear arms laid down in the Second Amendment to the US 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 elections.
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.
“There is evil prowling in the world… let us all return to our places of worship and pray for help.”
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 appeared with four children, representing hundreds who wrote to him after the 20 children and six adults were killed when a gunman blazing an assault rifle went on the rampage in Connecticut on December 14.
“This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged and their voices should compel us to change,” he said.
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 Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
And he also urged Congress to renew a ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 and to limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
The White House complained Wednesday that an NRA attack ad accusing Obama of hypocrisy because his daughters get armed Secret Service protection while other school children do not was “repugnant and cowardly.”
The NRA, which has held a grip on politicians in America for a generation, has promised to fight any tighter gun controls, arguing instead that armed guards should be placed in every school in the country.
“I think that the Second Amendment is going to survive this,” NRA President David Keene told CNN.
But, he added: “When you’re up against the president, if he is in fact willing to spend his political capital, you wouldn’t want to mortgage your house and bet how it’s going to come out.”
The president later tweeted a letter sent to him by an eight-year-old boy called Grant.
“Please don’t let people own machine guns or other powerful guns like that,” the boy wrote. “We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook.”