WASHINGTON – President Obama endorsed controversial bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines on Monday, as well as stricter background checks for gun buyers – but conceded he may not win approval of all in a Congress reluctant to tighten restrictions.
Will all of them get through this Congress? I don’t know, said Obama. He said lawmakers would have to examine their own conscience as they tackle gun control legislation after the horrifying Connecticut school shootings but in the face of opposition from the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun rights groups.
Obama spoke at a midday White House news conference one month after the Newtown elementary school rampage, which ignited a national discussion on preventing mass shootings.
The president said he would unveil a comprehensive road map for curbing gun violence within days. His plan will be based on recommendations from Vice President Biden’s gun task force and is expected to include both legislative proposals and steps Obama can implement by himself using his presidential powers.
But the most sweeping and contentious elements – including an assault weapons ban – will require approval from a Congress that has been loath to tackle gun control legislation for more than a decade. The politically powerful NRA has vowed to fight any measure that would limit access to guns and ammunition, a hard-line position that could sway some Republicans and conservative Democrats.
Despite the opposition, Obama said he would vigorously pursue measures to tighten gun laws.
My starting point is not to worry about the politics, he said.
The president’s new resolve follows a lack of movement in tackling gun violence throughout much of his first term, despite several high-profile shootings. He called the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School the worst day of his presidency and vowed to take action.
Parents of the slain Connecticut children added their voices to the national dialogue Monday. Members of the newly formed group Sandy Hook Promise called for an open-minded discussion about a range of issues, including guns, mental health and safety in schools and other public places.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a prominent gun control advocate, addressed a summit on gun violence at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and argued for greater federal gun control, including background checks for all purchases and a federal crackdown on trafficking.
And lawmakers in New York state pressed ahead with what would be the nation’s first gun control measure approved since the school shootings.
Among the items in a tentative agreement in the state legislature are further restrictions on the state’s ban on assault weapons, limits on the size of magazines to seven bullets, down from the current 10, and more stringent background checks for sales.
The assault weapons ban, which Obama has long supported, is expected to face the toughest road on Capitol Hill. Congress passed a 10-year ban on the high-grade military-style weapons in 1994, but supporters didn’t have the votes to renew it once it expired in 2004.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Friday predicted that a ban might win Senate approval but he doubted it could pass in the Republican-led House.
Obama will also need congressional help to limit high-capacity ammunition magazines, like the ones used by the Newtown shooter, and to require background checks for anyone seeking to purchase a gun.
The president’s proposals are also expected to include steps for improving school safety and mental health care, as well as recommendations for addressing violence in entertainment and video games.
Pro-gun rights groups, including the NRA, have long insisted that insufficient mental health care and violent images are more to blame for mass shootings than the availability of guns.