US gun control tops Obama's agenda

2013-04-08 17:23
Barack Obama (Picture: AP)

Barack Obama (Picture: AP)

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Washington - President Barack Obama heads to the site of December's deadly school shooting on Monday, looking for a breakthrough in his efforts to curb gun violence as the US Congress returns from a two-week recess with gun control legislation high on agenda.

Obama is headed to Newton, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 young children and six educators in one the worst school shootings ever in the US.

The administration moved quickly after the shooting amid concerns that the high emotions would settle and politics would go back to normal on one of the country's most sensitive issues.

The top gun lobby has opposed the gun control drive, and the president's proposals have weakened in the months since the shooting amid fears that the more controversial ones, such as an assault weapons ban, will harm an overall gun control package.

One of Obama senior advisers, Dan Pfeiffer, suggested to ABC on Sunday that the lack of a straightforward vote because of legislative manoeuvring would be an insult to people who lost family members in the shooting.

He pointed out that senators of both parties had applauded when Obama called for a vote during his State of the Union speech in January.

"Now that the cameras are off and they are not forced to look the Newtown families in the face, now they want to make it harder and filibuster it," Pfeiffer said.

Senators could start debating gun legislation before week's end, but leaders might take more time to seek a breakthrough deal on expanding background checks for gun buyers - the proposal seen as having the best chance of passage.

Two influential senators, one from the Democrats and one from opposition Republicans, are working on an agreement that could expand background checks on firearms sales to include gun shows and online transactions, Senate aides said on Sunday.

Federal background checks are currently required only for transactions handled by the roughly 55 000 federally licensed firearms dealers.

Private sales such as gun show or online purchases are exempt. The system is designed to keep guns from criminals, people with serious mental problems, some drug abusers and others.

Gun control

After the Connecticut massacre, Obama proposed applying the requirement to virtually all firearms sales. Gun control advocates consider expanded background checks to be the most effective step lawmakers could take to curb gun violence.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation's most powerful gun lobby, and other critics say the checks are ignored by criminals, and they fear that expanding the system could be a step to the government maintaining files on gun owners.

Other Obama gun control priorities include banning assault weapons and ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.

Both bans are expected to be offered as amendments, but the assault weapons ban seems sure to be defeated, and the high-capacity magazine prohibition also faces difficult odds.

Gun control advocates are worried their allies might cut a deal that goes too far.

"We want a vote on the issues. We don't want them watered down so they're unrecognisable," said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "If they can't vote for it, let the American people judge them on that. Don't let a dumbed-down bill be the outcome of this."

Justice department figures show that from 1994, when the current background check system began, through 2010, 118 million potential gun buyers were checked and 2.1 million were denied firearms. Defenders say the data proves the checks prevent many dangerous people from getting weapons.

With or without an agreement, the Senate gun legislation would toughen federal laws against illegal firearms sales, including against people who buy firearms for criminals or others barred from owning them. The legislation also would provide $40m a year, a modest increase from current levels of $30m, for a federal program that helps schools take safety measures such as reinforcing classroom doors

Read more on:    nra  |  barack obama  |  us  |  gun control  |  us school shootings

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