US President Barack Obama proposed sweeping changes to America’s gun laws yesterday, including a ban on assault weapons of the kind used to murder 20 children and six adults in a massacre at a Connecticut school last month.
The measures, which also call for tighter background checks and more money for mental health screening and school security, intensified the already acrimonious debate between Mr Obama and the gun lobby that opposes any restrictions on citizens’ “right to bear arms”.
With a battle now looming in Congress over approving the proposals, the National Rifle Association launched a controversial attack on the president, accusing him of being an “elitist hypocrite” as his own daughters have armed security at school.
In a television advertisement, the NRA, which claims its membership has grown by 250,000 since the 14 December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, asked: “Are the president’s kids more important that yours? Then why is he sceptical about putting armed security in our schools?”
The White House called the video “repugnant and cowardly”.
Yesterday’s announcement, delivered at the White House by Mr Obama alongside schoolchildren who wrote to him after the Sandy Hook killings, followed a review of gun laws by a task force led by vice-president Joe Biden.
Paying tribute to “those gorgeous children and their teachers who were lost,” Mr Obama said: “We honour their memories by doing everything we can to prevent this happening again. This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe.
“While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent any senseless act of violence completely, no legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life can be saved, we have an obligation to try.”
Mr Obama urged Congress to “act soon” to restore a federal ban on the sale of assault weapons that expired in 2004.
“Weapons designed for the theatre of war have no place in a movie theatre,” he said, referring to last July’s mass shooting at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, in which 12 died and almost 60 others were injured. Mr Obama also wants a ten-round restriction on the size of the magazine for less powerful semi-automatic weapons.
Additionally, criminal background checks would be required for all gun purchases, a move aimed at gun shows where checks on buyers are seen as more lax, and there would be a new law to counter trafficking of weapons across state lines.
Mr Obama closed yesterday by signing 23 executive orders including measures to improve emergency training for police and school staff, place more “resource officers” in schools and require health officials to conduct a study on gun violence.
“Cotton-candy political solutions aren’t going to fix this,” declared Texas Republican Steve Toth. “If this government infringes on our second amendment rights, we will do everything we can to oppose that.”