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Obama plan draws sharp attack from gun lobby

January 17, 2013 12:12 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:13 pm IST - WASHINGTON

A gun store salesman talks with a customer on Wednesday in Harrisville, Pennsylvania.

A gun store salesman talks with a customer on Wednesday in Harrisville, Pennsylvania.

President Barack Obama urged a reluctant Congress to ban both military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and require background checks for all gun sales in an emotion-laden plea to curb gun violence in America, though he acknowledged he’s in for an uphill battle.

In a sharp pushback against any new gun regulations, the National Rifle Association posted a Web video that labels Mr. Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for allowing his daughters to be protected by armed Secret Service agents while not embracing armed guards for schools.

“Are the President’s kids more important than yours,” a male narrator asks in the video. “Then why is he sceptical of putting armed security in schools, when his kids are protected by armed guards in their school?”

The President’s sweeping, $500 million plan, coming one month after the school massacre in Connecticut, marks the most comprehensive effort to tighten gun laws in nearly two decades. But his proposals, most of which are opposed by the NRA and its allies in Washington, face a doubtful future in a divided Congress where Republicans control the House of Representatives.

Seeking to circumvent at least some opposition, Mr. Obama on Wednesday signed 23 executive actions on Wednesday, including orders to make more federal data available for background checks and end a freeze on government research on gun violence. But he acknowledged that the steps he took on his own would have less impact than the broad measures requiring approval from Congress.

“To make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act,” Mr. Obama said, speaking at a White House ceremony with school children and their parents. “And Congress must act soon.”

The President’s announcements capped a swift and wide-ranging effort, led by Vice-President Joe Biden, to respond to the deaths of 20 children and six adults at >Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. But Mr. Obama’s gun control proposals set him up for a tough political fight with Congress as he starts his second term, when he’ll need Republican support to meet three looming fiscal deadlines and pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Many Democrats say an assault weapons ban faces the toughest road in Congress. Mr. Obama wants legislators to reinstate the expired 1994 ban on the high-grade weapons, and strengthen the measure to prevent manufacturers from circumventing the prohibition by making cosmetic changes to banned guns.

The President is also likely to face opposition to his call for Congress to limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.

But Democrats are hopeful they can build consensus around the president’s call for universal background checks. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says 40 per cent of gun sales are conducted with no criminal background checks, such as in some instances at gun shows or by private sellers over the Internet or through classified ads.

The NRA is opposed to all three measures. In a statement Wednesday, the gun lobby said, “Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected” by Obama’s efforts and the nation’s children “will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”

Key congressional leaders were tepid in their response to the White House proposals.

Republican House John Boehner’s office signalled no urgency to act, with spokesman Michael Steel saying only that “House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that.”

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was committed to ensuring that the Senate will consider gun violence legislation “early this year.” But he did not endorse any of Obama’s specific proposals.

The President vowed to use “whatever weight this office holds” to fight for his recommendations. He’s likely to travel around the country in the coming weeks to rally public support and could engage his still-active presidential campaign operation in the effort. But he’ll have to overcome a well-financed counter-effort by the NRA.

NRA terms plan elitist

On the eve of Mr. Obama’s announcement, the NRA released an online video accusing him of being an “elitist hypocrite” for sending his daughters to school with armed security while opposing having guards with guns at all U.S. schools.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the video “repugnant and cowardly.”

The President’s proposals did include a $150 million request to Congress that would allow schools to hire 1,000 new police officers, counsellors and psychologists. The White House plan also includes legislative and executive action to increase mental health services, including boosting funding for training aimed at getting young people into treatment more quickly.

A lopsided 84 per cent of Americans back broader background checks, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. Nearly six in 10 Americans want stricter gun laws, the same poll showed, with majorities favouring a nationwide ban on military-style weapons and limits on gun violence depicted in video games, movies and TV shows.

The NRA and pro-gun legislators have long suggested that violent images in video games and entertainment are more to blame for mass shootings than the availability of guns.

But Mr. Obama’s proposals do little to address that concern, other than calling on the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to research links between violent images and gun attacks.

Government scientists have been prohibited from researching the causes and prevention of gun violence since 1996, when a budget amendment was passed that barred researchers from spending taxpayer money on such studies.

The administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for expanded research.

Mr. Obama also wants lawmakers to ban armour-piercing ammunition, except for use by the military and law enforcement. And he’s asking them to create stiffer penalties for gun trafficking, to provide $14 million to help train police officers and others to respond to shootings, and to approve his nominee to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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