Obama set for battle over gun-control bid

He announced a sweeping set of proposals to ban automatic weapons, limit magazines to 10 bullets, introduce universal background checks for all firearm buyers and increase the scrutiny of mental health patients.

At a carefully stage-managed White House press conference a month after the Sandy Hook school massacre, Obama said the US has waited too long to tackle gun violence and that it is now time to act.

Flanked by a group of schoolchildren, he said: "This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged, and their voices should compel us to change."

Obama said his reforms are intended not just to reduce killing sprees but also the everyday gun violence seen across the US. In the month since the Newtown shootings, 900 Americans have been killed by guns, he said.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) immediately vowed all-out opposition to his proposals, warning that it is preparing for "the fight of the century". Wayne LaPierre, the NRA executive vice-president, said: "I warned you this day was coming and now it's here. It's not about protecting your children. It's not about stopping crime. It's about banning your guns … period."

Obama, having abandoned any faint hopes of winning over the NRA after Newtown, has opted to confront it head on, calculating that the emotion over the deaths of 20 children and six teachers has changed the national mood in favour of tougher controls.

Elitist hypocrite
The White House described as "repugnant" and "cowardly" an NRA advert that brought Obama's two daughters into the debate, claiming the president is an "elitist hypocrite" because his children have personal protection.

The president faces an enormous struggle to get his more ambitious proposals through Congress because of almost certain opposition from Republicans, who control the House, and some Democrats, especially in the Senate.

On stage with him were four children who wrote to him after the shooting. Also in the audience was a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting and the parents of a child killed in Newtown. Obama spoke about that child, Grace McDonnell, describing her favourite colour and ambitions, and reflected not only on her short life but also on the potential that has been lost. The president said he has a painting by Grace, given to him by her parents, on the wall of his private office.

House Republicans said they will consider any legislation that came from the Senate, where all Bills start and where the Democrats have a majority. The Senate will start looking at measures in a fortnight.

Obama acknowledged it will not be easy getting legislation through, but said: "If there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if even one life can be saved, we have an obligation to try."

Too many loopholes
The most high-profile reform Obama proposed to put to Congress is a tougher version of the 1994 law introduced by Bill Clinton that banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons, which was ­criticised by the gun-control lobby as having too many loopholes.

Legislation will also be needed to reduce the number of bullets in magazines to 10, which gun-control activists argue could limit the number of casualties in shooting sprees.

Just as far-reaching would be the introduction of universal background checks for all gun sales. Although federally licensed gun sellers are required to carry out checks on buyers, gun shows and online sales are exempt.

Legislation would end this loophole, which allows, according to Obama, 40% of all gun sales to take place without a background check.

Residents of Newtown welcomed Obama's proposals. Richard Marotto (40) described them as "fantastic". Marotto's daughter Julia, a first-grader at Sandy Hook Elementary, lost many of her classmates in the December 14 tragedy. – © Guardian News & Media 2013

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Ewen Macaskill
Guest Author

Related stories

The journalist who was shot in cold blood

Ahmed Divela was one of Ghana’s most fearless investigative journalists. This edited excerpt about his killing is from Faces of Assassination

We cannot reform ourselves out of the times we are in

To end racism, we will have to change the structures from which it draws its mandate, and get rid of liberal and right-wing politicians who give it oxygen while we are being asphyxiated

After disastrous Zuma years, Ramaphosa must provide foreign policy clarity

For a country that is guided by ubuntu, South Africa has a record of embarrassing international blunders

What Bernie Sanders needs to learn from black voters in South Africa

Senator Sanders must explicitly demonstrate that a US government that can guarantee universal healthcare is the best path to building long-term black wealth

US presidential campaign 2020: The Democratic conundrum

As Super Tuesday looms, there are five candidates left in the Democratic race. But the party must ensure it selects someone who will be able to defeat incumbent Donald Trump

Valeria Luiselli tells stories to shame us

Over and over again she writes about the lost children picked up on the United States border

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Durban city manager says NPA erred in his bail conditions

The corruption-fraught metro is coming to grips with having a municipal manager who is on bail for graft, yet has returned to work

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate

Tax, wage bill, debt, pandemic: Mboweni’s tightrope budget policy statement

The finance minister has to close the jaws of the hippo and he’s likely to do this by tightening the country’s belt, again.

SA justice delays extradition of paedophile to UK

Efforts to bring Lee Nigel Tucker to justice have spanned 16 years and his alleged victims have waited for 30 years

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday