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Obama for sweeping reforms to stem gun violence

January 17, 2013 20:05 IST

United States President Barack Obama has unveiled sweeping gun control measures, including background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons, to reduce gun violence in the wake of incidents like the Wisconsin gurdwara shooting and the Connecticut school massacre

"We can't put this off any longer. I will put everything I've got into this," Obama said while proposing the most sweeping gun control legislation in decades.

With relatives of some of the 20 children killed in the Connecticut rampage looking on, Obama signed 23 executive actions, which do not require congressional approval, to strengthen existing gun laws and take steps on mental health and school safety.

"The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The right to assemble peaceably, that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado," Obama said on Wednesday at a White House event.

He also called on Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, to restrict ammunition magazines to no more than 10 rounds, and to expand background checks to anyone buying a gun, whether at a store or in a private sale at an auction or convention.

While some of the steps he proposed in the $500 million package are given little chance of winning congressional approval in the face of the nation's powerful gun lobby, Obama said all efforts must be made to reduce chronic gun violence in the country.

"This is our first task as a society -- keeping our children safe," Obama said, adding that saving even one life would make the changes he seeks worth the effort.

The new proposals were unveiled after the December 14 killings in Connecticut of 20 school children and six adults. On August 5, a white supremacist gunman went on a shooting spree killing six Sikhs at a Wisconsin Gurdwara.

Republicans immediately rejected the Obama proposals as an attack on the constitutional right to bear arms.

"Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook," said a statement by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, considered an up-and-coming GOP leader. "President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence."

The powerful National Rifle Association said it would work with Congress to find what it called "real solutions to protecting America's most valuable asset -- our children."

"Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation," the NRA said in a statement. "Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy."

NRA President David Keene said the "Second Amendment is going to survive" Obama's efforts on gun control.

"What we want to see is what they really have in mind. They've got bullet points. There's going to be a lot more to it than that," Keene was quoted as saying by CNN.

Obama called accusations that he seeks to violate gun rights untrue, saying opponents want to wage a campaign of intimidation and fear instead of working with him for needed changes.

"We can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale," he said.

Gun control supporters, including relatives of shooting victims, lauded Obama's proposals as a good first step to reduce gun violence and urged legislators to take on the difficult issue instead of reverting to partisan postures.

Vice President Joe Biden led a panel assembled by Obama to examine gun control steps after the Connecticut shootings, which sparked a fierce public debate over how to prevent such mass killings. Biden's recommendations formed the basis of the package of proposals Obama announced yesterday.

Speaking on the occasion, Biden said for this he and the cabinet members sat down with 229 groups, from law enforcement agencies to public health officials to gun officials to gun advocacy groups, to sportsmen and hunters and religious leaders including those from Hindu and Sikhs.

"The world has changed, and it's demanding action," he said.

A senior administration official told reporters the price tag for the entire gun control package was $500 million.

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