US President Barack Obama was under intensifying pressure on Sunday night to take the lead in a campaign for greater gun control following the deadliest primary school massacre in US history.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and leading US senators are pressing Obama to tell the US Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons which are common to almost all recent mass shootings in the US, including Friday’s tragedy in Connecticut in which 20 children, aged six and seven, and seven adults were killed.
Bloomberg praised the president for his tearful reaction to the deaths, but called on Obama, who has faced accusations of political cowardice over his failure to tackle gun control following other massacres, to make the issue a priority.
“It’s time for the president to stand up and lead and tell the country what we should do. Not go to Congress and say: What do you guys want to do? This should be his No. 1 agenda. He’s the president of the United States and if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns. That’s roughly the number of Americans killed during the whole Vietnam war,” Bloomberg said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
The mayor called for a renewal of the assault weapons ban that then-US president Bill Clinton pushed through Congress in 1994, which also included restrictions on the size of bullet magazines.
The administration of former US President Bush allowed it to lapse a decade later. Police say that the Newtown killer, Adam Lanza, used a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns.
“I don’t think the founding fathers had the idea that every man, woman and child could carry an assault weapon,” Bloomberg said. “I think the president through his leadership could get a bill like that through Congress, but at least he’s got to try.”
US Senator Dianne Feinstein, an influential Democrat, said she intends to introduce legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban on the first day the new Congress sits next month.
“It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession, not retroactively, but prospectively,” she said. “The purpose of this bill is to get ... weapons of war off the streets.”
Feinstein added that she is looking to Obama to make a stand.
“He is going to have a bill to lead on,” she said.
The White House on Sunday said the president supports reinstatement of a federal ban on assault weapons — a commitment he made during his 2008 election campaign, but has not pushed since.
Gun control advocates also say Obama has shied away from using the powers he has to restrict the import of semi-automatic weapons and magazines that hold large numbers of bullets.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a former federal prosecutor and state attorney general for 20 years, backed Feinstein.
“I’m hearing from the community, as well as my colleagues in law enforcement, we need to do something. And I’m hearing from my colleagues in the Senate around the country, some in states like Wisconsin and Colorado, where there have been similar horrific, horrible tragedies, maybe not involving children with this kind of incomprehensible kind of circumstance, but we need to do something, at the very least, perhaps, about the high-capacity magazines that were used in this crime,” he said. “I intend to talk about it on the floor of the United States Senate perhaps as early as this week.”