US President Barack Obama is launching the most sweeping effort to curb US gun violence in nearly two decades, acting swiftly after a massacre at an elementary school last month by proposing bans on military-style assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips and more than a dozen executive orders aimed at circumventing congressional opposition to stricter gun control.
The broad package Obama was scheduled to announce yesterday is also expected to include more than a dozen steps the president can take on his own through executive action. Those measures will provide a pathway for skirting opposing lawmakers, but they will be limited in scope, and in some cases, focused simply on enforcing existing laws.
Obama is urging a reluctant Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets like those used in the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 elementary-school children in Newtown, Connecticut. The president will also ask for a requirement for universal background checks on gun buyers.
The general public appears receptive to stronger federal action, with majorities of Americans favoring a nationwide ban on military-style rapid-fire weapons, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. A lopsided 84 percent of adults would like to see the establishment of a federal standard for background checks for people buying guns at gun shows, the poll showed.
However, gun control advocates worry that opposition from the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies in Congress will be too great to overcome.
The NRA released an online video on Tuesday that called 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.
White House officials signaled that Obama would seek to rally public support for the measures he puts forward, perhaps holding events around the country or relying on Organizing for America, his still-operational presidential campaign.
For many Americans, gun ownership is a cherished right protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution — 51 percent in the Associated Press-GfK poll said that they believed laws limiting gun ownership infringe on the public’s constitutional right to possess and carry firearms.
Others argue that the country’s founders in the 18th century could never have envisioned the sort of high-powered assault weapons used in the Newtown attack.
White House officials, seeking to avoid setting the president up for failure, have emphasized that no single measure — even an assault weapons ban — would solve a scourge of gun violence across the country. However, without such a ban, or other sweeping Congress-approved measures, it’s unclear whether executive actions alone can make any noticeable difference.
“It is a simple fact that there are limits to what can be done within existing law,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday. “Congress has to act on the kinds of measures we’ve already mentioned because the power to do that is reserved by Congress.”
Obama was scheduled to announce his proposals in a midday event at the White House, flanked by children who wrote to him about gun violence following the massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Law enforcement officials, mayors from across the country and supportive congressional lawmakers are also expected to attend.
According to a lobbyist briefed on Tuesday, Obama would present a three-part plan focused on gun violence, education and mental health.
The president was to call for a focus on universal background checks. Some 40 percent of gun sales take place without background checks, including those by private sellers at gun shows or over the Internet, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
He was to call for banning assault weapons and limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds or fewer, and also propose a federal statute to stop “straw man” purchases of guns and crack down on trafficking rings. He would order federal agencies to conduct more research on gun use and crimes, something Republican congressional majorities have limited through language in budget bills, the lobbyist said.
Obama has pledged urgent action to prevent future mass shootings, and his plan — coming just one month after the Newtown attacks — is swift by Washington standards.
His framework is based on recommendations from US Vice President Joe Biden, who led a wide-ranging task force on gun violence. Beyond the gun control measures, Biden also gave Obama suggestions for improving mental health care and addressing violent images in video games, movies and television.
The vice president’s proposals included 19 steps that could be achieved through executive action.