Thursday 14 December 2017

Obama to focus on gun control in his final year as president

Demonstrators take part in a rally to demand sensible gun laws in front of the White House, as US President Barack Obama was expected to announce measures aimed at curbing gun violence. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators take part in a rally to demand sensible gun laws in front of the White House, as US President Barack Obama was expected to announce measures aimed at curbing gun violence. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Kathleen Hennessy in Washington

US President Barack Obama began the new year with gun control at the top of his domestic agenda.

He spent yesterday preparing a set of new executive actions tightening laws, kicking off his final year in office with a clear signal that he intends to tackle one of the country's most intractable issues.

At a meeting with top law enforcement officials, Mr Obama signed off on a package of proposals aimed at curbing gun violence and cracking down on unregulated gun sales.

The president has been looking for ways to work around a Republican-led Congress that has blocked his previous efforts to tighten gun laws in the wake of mass shootings. Mr Obama has accused Republicans - and some Democrats - of being beholden to the powerful gun industry lobby and opposing some measures he says a majority of Americans support, including expanded background checks on gun sales.

But the issue of gun control bitterly divides Americans, with many viewing any attempt to regulate firearms as a possible infringement on their constitutional rights to own guns.

At the top of Mr Obama's list is an effort to expand background checks on gun sales by forcing more sellers to register as federally licensed gun dealers.

The changes would be aimed at some unregistered sellers who skirt the background-check laws by selling at gun shows, online or in informal settings. Other moves being considered include improving reporting of lost and stolen weapons and beefing up inspections of licensed dealers, according to a person familiar with the plans who did not want to be named.

The package includes measures this White House has long considered but not completed, as it was mindful of the legal fight sure to follow as well as the potential for political backlash for some fellow Democrats.

But after a steady string of mass shootings and with the clock on his tenure ticking down, Mr Obama appears ready to push further than he has in the past.

"We definitely think there are things he can do," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates expanding background checks. Mr Gross says his recent conversations with White House aides have left him hopeful.

After all but ignoring the issue in his first term, Mr Obama changed course after the December 2012 shooting that killed 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The US president failed to push a package of gun measures through Congress, including one expanding background checks.

At the same time, Mr Obama took nearly two dozen executive actions to tighten gun laws, but left a major expansion of background checks out of the mix.

But after the shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon in October, Mr Obama ordered his staff to redouble the effort to look for ways to work around Congress.

On Thursday, Mr Obama will take his argument to prime time, participating in a town hall discussion of gun violence on CNN. He's slated to make his case for changes in his State of the Union address on January 12.

Mr Obama's plans immediately set off a political debate on the presidential campaign trail.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has already proposed an executive action to close the gun show loophole, welcomed Mr Obama's plans.

"I am absolutely convinced we can have gun safety measures consistent with the Constitution," she said. "I will take on that fight."

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump said: "I don't like changing anything ... Right now, they have plenty of rules and regulations."

Republican candidates rejected the proposals, including those who had backed some gun control measures in the past.

Irish Independent

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