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US gun debate: Obama unveils gun control proposals

President Barack Obama has unveiled sweeping gun control proposals, setting the stage for a showdown with firearms rights advocates.

Mr Obama called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and wider background checks on gun buyers.

The Democratic president also signed 23 executive-order measures, which do not require congressional approval.

Mr Obama said gun-control reforms could not wait any longer, after last month’s school massacre in Connecticut.

“While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil,” he said, “if there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”

Mr Obama unveiled the new proposals at the White House on Wednesday, flanked by children who wrote him letters after December’s Newtown school shooting, which left 26 dead.

‘Tough battle’

During the press conference, the president urged Congress:

  • to ban “military-style” assault weapons such as those used in several recent mass shootings
  • impose limits on ammunition magazines to 10 rounds
  • introduce background checks on all gun sales; currently private sales and some sales at gun shows are exempt
  • pass a ban on possession and sale of armour-piercing bullets
  • introduce new gun-trafficking laws
  • Finally approve the appointment of the head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Mr Obama added he would sign a directive so that government agencies can conduct research into gun crime

Among the unilateral steps Mr Obama pledged to take was to end a ban on gun-violence research by a prominent federal agency.

Mr Obama acknowledged his legislative push would encounter stiff opposition in Congress.

“This will be difficult,” he said. “I will put everything I’ve got into this.”

The new proposals are the result of meetings between a task force led by Vice-President Joe Biden and groups from across the political spectrum, White House aides said.

Mr Biden met gun control and firearms rights advocates, entertainment and video game industry figures, parents of shooting victims and law enforcement officials.

The task force also consulted the nation’s top gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has repeatedly vowed to fight any attempts to limit access to guns or ammunition.

In the days after the Newtown shooting, the NRA proposed stationing armed guards in every school in America. The group says it has signed up more than 100,000 members since the massacre.

‘Repugnant and cowardly’

On Wednesday, the NRA released a web advert attacking the president as “an elitist hypocrite” because his daughters are protected by armed guards at their school in Washington DC. But the ad accused him of opposing armed guards in every school and favours “gun-free” school zones.

The White House condemned the ad as “repugnant and cowardly”.

On Wednesday, Mr Obama proposed freeing up law enforcement funds for schools to hire 1,000 new armed police, school psychologists, social workers or other staff trained to prevent violence.

On Tuesday, New York state comfortably passed the first gun control law since December’s school shooting in Newtown. Supporters said the state’s firearms restrictions were now the tightest in the nation.

Those measures include a wider ban on assault weapons, a law limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines, and provisions to keep guns from mentally ill people who make threats.

Some gun owners will also have to register them with authorities.