Obama unveils gun-control package

President Barack Obama has launched the most sweeping effort to curb US gun violence in nearly 20 years following last month’s Connecticut school massacre.

He announced a 500 million dollar package of executive actions and legislative proposals aimed at reducing the huge toll of American gun deaths.

The package includes a call on Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, and it would close loopholes in the background check system for gun sales.

Mr Obama also signed 23 executive actions – which require no congressional approval – including several aimed at improving access to data for background checks.

“This is the land of the free and the home of the brave and always will be,” he said, acknowledging the constitutional right to bear arms. “But we’ve also long realised ... that with rights come responsibilities.”

Families of the victims of last month’s shooting were invited to the White House for the president’s announcement, which promises to set up a bitter fight with a powerful pro-gun lobby that has long warned supporters that Mr Obama wanted to take away their guns.

The US has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, and pro-gun groups see any move on gun restrictions as an offence against the right guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Critics counter that the country’s founding fathers never could have foreseen assault weapons more than two centuries ago, when guns were intended for the common, not individual, defence, guns were often stored in community areas and rifles fired one shot at a time.

Emotions have been high since the Connecticut shooting, which Mr Obama has called the worst day of his presidency. He largely ignored the issue of gun violence during his first term but appears willing to stake his second term on it now.

Gun control advocates also worry that opposition from the powerful National Rifle Association and its allies in Congress will be too great to overcome. The NRA released an online video that called Mr Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for having armed Secret Service agents protect his daughters at school while not committing to installing armed guards in all schools.

The White House called it “repugnant and cowardly.”

The public appears receptive to stronger federal action on guns, with majorities of Americans favouring a nationwide ban on military-style rapid-fire weapons, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. The poll also shows 84% of adults would like to see the establishment of a federal standard for background checks for people buying guns at gun shows.

Three-quarters of Americans said they reacted to the Connecticut shooting with deep anger, while 54% said they felt deeply ashamed it could happen in the United States.

The new poll also shows 51% said they believed laws limiting gun ownership infringe on the public’s constitutional right to possess and carry firearms.

White House officials signalled that Mr Obama would seek to rally public support for the measures he puts forward.

Seeking to avoid setting the president up for failure, they have emphasised that no single measure – even an assault weapons ban – would solve the scourge of gun violence. But without such a ban, or other sweeping Congress-approved measures, it is unclear whether executive actions alone can make any noticeable difference.

The president called for banning assault weapons and limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds or fewer, and he proposed a federal statute to stop purchases of guns by buyers who are acting for others.

Obama also called for a focus on universal background checks. Some 40% of gun sales take place without background checks, including those by private sellers at gun shows or over the internet.

The president’s framework is based on recommendations from vice president Joe Biden, who led a wide-ranging task force on gun violence. Beyond the gun control measures, Mr Biden also made suggestions for improving mental health care and addressing violent images in video games, movies and television.

The NRA criticised the bill, saying: “These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime.”

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