independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Obama calls for action on gun laws

President Barack Obama has tasked Vice President Joe Biden with co-ordinating proposals to curb gun violence (AP)

President Barack Obama wants "concrete proposals" to curb gun violence by the end of next month in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre.

He has tasked vice president Joe Biden with co-ordinating the campaign and said he will push legislation "without delay". The president urged Congress to hold votes on the bill. Mr Obama said the issue was complex but said: "We have a deep obligation - all of us - to try." Mr Biden, a long-time gun control advocate, will lead a team that will include members of Mr Obama's administration and outside groups.

The move comes after Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults were killed at the school by a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle.

"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Mr Obama said. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence."

Mr Obama, who pushed little on gun control during his first term, also pressed Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. He called for stricter background checks for people who seek to purchase weapons and limited high-capacity magazines. The administration will have to make its gun control push in the middle of tense negotiations with Congress to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of billions of dollars in tax increases and deep spending cuts that will kick in at the end of the year without a deal.

The shooting has prompted several congressional gun-rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there are concerns in the administration and elsewhere that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the shooting eases. The most powerful supporter of gun owners and the gun industry, the National Rifle Association, broke its silence four days after the shooting. In a statement, it pledged "to help to make sure this never happens again" and has scheduled a news conference for Friday.

With the NRA promising "meaningful contributions" and Mr Obama vowing "meaningful action," the challenge in Washington is to turn words into action. Ideas so far have ranged from banning people from buying more than one gun a month to arming teachers.

The challenge will be striking the right balance with protecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Firearms are in a third or more of US households, and suspicion runs deep of an overbearing government whenever it proposes expanding federal authority.

Meanwhile, a teacher gunned down during the Connecticut school massacre was remembered as a selfless hero who died trying to shield her pupils. Outside 27-year-old Victoria Soto's funeral in Stratford on Wednesday, family friend Kim Rusatsky said Ms Soto had an infectious smile and it's "pretty apparent" how selfless she was.

Peter Rusatsky praised Ms Soto's actions, saying "any teacher would do it and not blink and just do whatever had to be done to protect those children". Fairfield police chief Gary MacNamara called Ms Soto a "tremendous hero" and said sacrificing her life was "the ultimate strength".

Press Association

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