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Obama Unveils Proposals To Reduce U.S. Gun Violence

U.S. President Barack Obama high-fives 8-year-old Hinna Zejah after unveiling a series of gun-control proposals during an event at the White House on January 16.
U.S. President Barack Obama high-fives 8-year-old Hinna Zejah after unveiling a series of gun-control proposals during an event at the White House on January 16.
WASHINGTON -- Declaring that the United States "can't put this off any longer," U.S. President Barack Obama has unveiled a mix of sweeping proposals to reduce gun violence that he wants Congress to pass and will implement on his own.

Obama presented his plan at a White House event attended by children who wrote to him after last month's massacre of 20 primary-school students and six adults, asking him to keep them safe. Survivors and victims' families were also present.

"For the men and women in big cities and small towns who fall victim to senseless violence each and every day, for all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm, let's do the right thing," Obama said.

"Let's do the right thing for them and for this country that we love so much."

Obama's proposals are the strictest gun-safety measures offered in almost 20 years, since Congress approved a ban on assault weapons in 1994 that was allowed to expire in 2004. They're based on the findings of a White House task force formed last month that met with gun-rights groups, victims, and gun-control advocates.

Obama's major requests for lawmakers are to require background checks on every gun buyer, ban military-style assault weapons, and outlaw high-capacity ammunition clips, like the one used in the school killings and the mass shooting of 70 people in a Colorado movie theater in July.

Current law requires only licensed gun dealers to run background checks on buyers, but 40 percent of guns in the United States are sold by private sellers who do not have to run checks. The White House called universal background checks "the single most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence and mass shootings."

Obama also announced several measures he plans to enact using the powers of his own office, including adding mental-health data to background checks, tightening restrictions on gun ownership, and improving school safety.

But he acknowledged that only Congress can bring real change. "To make a real and lasting difference, Congress must act," Obama said. "And Congress must act soon."

No Chance Of Success?

People on both sides of the issue think that probably won't happen.

Representative Carolyn McCarthy (Democrat-New York), who has led the push for stronger gun control, admitted this week, "We're not going to get an outright ban" on assault weapons.

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David Keene, the head of the largest and most powerful U.S. gun-rights lobby group, the National Rifle Association, sounded confident on CNN on January 13 that there will be no new U.S. gun laws.

"I would say that the likelihood is that they're not going to be able to get an assault-weapons ban through this Congress," Keene said, and, when asked about a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, said, "I don't think, ultimately, they're going to get that, either."

Obama's call to require universal background checks on gun buyers has less opposition in Congress, but is far from a sure thing.

Senate leaders from both parties have avoided prioritizing the issue of gun violence, citing the urgent need to first solve the country's looming national debt crisis.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (Republican-Ohio) has little incentive to bring a gun bill to a vote, given the lack of support for a weapons or ammunition ban among Republicans, who control that chamber.

Public Support For Rapid-Fire Gun Bans

Most Republicans -- and Americans who oppose gun laws, in general -- view government restrictions on private gun ownership as more of a threat than gun violence itself.

That's at odds with the current feelings of most people in the United States, who favor stronger laws – a shift Obama noted at the White House when he said: "Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater. A majority of Americans agree with us on this."

A new AP-GfK poll found that six in 10 people favor stronger gun laws, with majorities favoring a nationwide ban on military-style, rapid-fire weapons like the Bushmaster AR 15, M4 A3 model assault rifle, the kind used in December's school shooting.

More than 2 million have been sold over the last 10 years, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Sales have spiked in recent weeks as fear spread that the White House task force presaged new laws.

The last time a federal assault-weapons ban passed, in 1994, it was criticized for containing loopholes that allowed many types of assault weapons to still be legally bought and sold. Legislators drafting the new ban are expected to close those loopholes.

Robert Spitzer, the author of "The Politics of Gun Control," says that although studies of the 10 years when the ban was in force show that it didn't lead to a drop in overall gun crime, it did lead to a drop in the number of gun crimes committed with an assault weapon.

"It did go to the idea that assault weapons were harder to get, and given the greater firepower of assault weapons, that certainly would be a positive consequence of the [ban] because it would be better to have somebody who's committing a gun crime to use a gun that has less capacity than one that has more capacity," Spitzer said.

Ironically, given the lack of congressional will to pass a new ban, Spitzer says support for the 1994 ban grew after a drifter used an assault weapon at an elementary school in California to kill several children. "It was a very shocking moment," he says, adding, "It shocked the country very much in the way that Connecticut shooting has shocked Americans in recent weeks."