Barack Obama has pledged to put the power of the presidency squarely behind the effort to keep the "weapons of war" out of the hands of killers, as he demanded plans for new gun control measures within weeks.
Responding to an unprecedented national outpouring in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school, Mr Obama said that there was "a growing consensus" of Americans in support of the first major reform of gun laws in nearly two decades.
He assigned Joe Biden, the vice-president, to lead a task force to draw up "concrete proposals", including a ban on assault weapons, that he could begin to enact by the end of next month.
Mr Obama, who was silent on the divisive issue of gun control after each of the three mass killings of his first term, made clear that the deaths of 20 children in a single killing spree had galvanised the nation. "This time the words need to lead to action," he said.
Mr Obama acknowledged that even modest reforms would face opposition from America's powerful gun lobby but challenged politicians to "summon even one tiny iota of the courage" shown by the six teachers killed protecting children in Newtown.
The announcement marks the first time Mr Obama has taken up the banner of gun control and he said he would include the issue in next month's inaugural address, the speech where he will lay out his priorities for a second term.
Mr Obama said: "The vast majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war."
He also mentioned a ban on "military-style assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines such the Bushmaster weapon carried by Adam Lanza (20).
Mr Obama also supported closing a legal loophole that allows individuals to buy weapons at gun shows without a background check.
When asked about the National Rifle Association ( NRA), the gun lobby group that has thwarted previous efforts at gun control, Mr Obama said he hoped it would do "some self-reflection" before opposing his reforms.
The NRA has remained largely silent since the killings but will hold a press conference tomorrow. (© Daily Telegraph, London)