Obama to propose sweeping gun control measures Wednesday
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will propose an assault weapons ban and better background checks for gun buyers on Wednesday as part of a package of proposals to curb gun violence one month after the Newtown school massacre.
The proposals will include executive and legislative measures, with the latter sure to face an uphill battle in Congress, where appetite for renewing an assault weapons ban is low.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who led a task force that made recommendations on the issue, will present the measures at a White House event attended by children from around the country who wrote letters to the president about gun violence and school safety.
Obama will urge lawmakers to act quickly, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"The president has made clear that he intends to take a comprehensive approach," Carney said at a briefing.
"There are specific legislative actions that he will continue to call on Congress to take, including the assault weapons ban, including a measure to ban high-capacity magazine clips, including an effort to close the very big loopholes in the background check system in our country," he said.
The proposals will be Obama's first major foray into gun control, despite several mass shootings that have occurred during his four years in office. Gun restrictions are a divisive issue in the United States, which constitutionally protects a citizen's right to bear arms.
Biden delivered his recommendations to Obama after a series of meetings with representatives from the weapons and entertainment industries requested by the president after the December 14 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six adults were killed.
The proposals are likely to touch on mental health and could address violence portrayed in video games.
Obama, who has said the day of the shooting was the worst of his presidency, said on Monday he would study the panel's ideas and then move forward "vigorously" on those that he endorsed, including some actions he could take without congressional approval.
A White House official said Obama had not endorsed all of the ideas put forward by Biden's team but declined to lay out specifics on what would be announced.
Obama has signalled his plan would include elements that did not require congressional approval. The president could take action to ban certain gun imports and bolster oversight of dealers.
A spokeswoman for Representative Jackie Speier, a lawmaker from California who was one of a group of Democrats who met with Biden about the issue on Monday, said his task force had identified 19 different options Obama could choose to implement through executive action.
"(Biden) did not indicate which or how many of those options the president will take up or present to the nation tomorrow," said the spokeswoman, Jenny Werwa.
The president's move is not the only action being taken on gun control nationwide. New York State lawmakers on Tuesday approved one of the toughest gun control bills in the United States and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law.
The proposals are likely to draw ire from the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobbying group that is traditionally associated with Republicans. The NRA proposed having armed officials in schools throughout the country and has said the media and violent video games shared blame for the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
There is little on which the Obama administration and NRA officials agree.
The White House is also pushing for the Senate to confirm a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, an agency that has been without a Senate-confirmed director since 2006.
Obama nominated Andrew Traver, a Navy veteran who ran the agency's Chicago division, for the job in November 2010, and again early in 2011. The NRA opposed Traver's nomination.
The Senate is in recess, and Obama could choose to make a recess appointment to fill the job. Such an appointment would likely rankle lawmakers, whose support Obama will need to get his proposals passed.
Though the chances of getting a ban on assault weapons appear low, the White House seems set on getting Obama's support of such a ban solidified in a legislative draft.
Gun control advocates are pressing the administration to keep up the pressure on the issue in the face of other policy priorities, including deficit reduction and immigration reform.
"In three months are we going to be talking about these issues? Because that's the only way you make any progress," said Neera Tanden, president of the Centre for American Progress, a progressive-leaning advocacy group.
The organization, whose officials have close ties to the White House, released a report suggesting 14 legislative proposals and executive actions to reduce gun violence, including requiring a background check for all gun sales.
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