From left to right: Hinna Zeejah, 8, Taejah Goode, 10, Julia Stokes, 11, and Grant Fritz, 8, who wrote letters to President Barack Obama about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., watch as Obama signs executive orders outlining proposals to reduce gun violence, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington.
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama proposed a new assault weapons ban and mandatory background checks for all gun buyers on Wednesday in a bid to channel national outrage over the Newtown school massacre into the biggest U.S. gun-control push in generations.
Obama fact box
Here are the main proposals, broken down into action that Obama wants Congress to take and moves that the White House can accomplish without congressional approval, through executive orders.
PROPOSALS REQUIRING APPROVAL BY CONGRESS
- Require criminal background checks on prospective buyers in all gun sales. A White House summary of Obama's plan calls this "the single most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence and mass shootings." Federally licensed firearms dealers now are required to run background checks on gun buyers, but studies estimate that nearly 40 percent of all sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from the requirement.
- Renew and strengthen the federal ban on sales of military-style assault weapons that was in effect 1994-2004. A 2010 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum found that more than one-third of police departments reported an increase in criminals' use of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines since the prohibition ended. Bringing back the ban would be difficult because of opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.
- Reinstate a ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Like expanded background checks, this is likely to have more support in Congress than an assault weapons ban.
- Ban the possession of armor-piercing ammunition and its transfer to anyone other than the military and law enforcement.
- Increase punishments for gun trafficking, particularly by unlicensed dealers or "straw buyers" who purchase arms for criminals.
- Provide $30 million in one-time grants to states to help school districts develop and implement emergency management plans.
- Approve the White House's $4 billion proposal to help keep 15,000 police officers on the streets.
- Confirm a director for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The ATF has not had a director for six years. The National Rifle Association, the nation's largest gun-rights group, has pushed to weaken the ATF's authority to enforce gun laws and prevent the agency from having strong leadership.
- Give $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire school resource officers, school psychologists, social workers, and counselors. This would put up to 1,000 new school resource officers - specially trained police officers who work in schools - and school counselors on the job.
- Reach 750,000 young people through programs to identify mental illness early and refer them to treatment. A new initiative, Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) would provide training for teachers and other adults who regularly interact with students to recognize young people who need help and ensure they are referred to mental health services.
ACTION TO BE TAKEN BY OBAMA
- Make it easier for states to make information - notably about those with mental health issues - available to the background check system.
- Direct the Centers for Disease Control and scientific agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence.
- Direct U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
- Launch a national responsible gun ownership campaign.
- Require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
- Nominate a director for the ATF.
- Ensure that every school has a comprehensive emergency management plan. A 2010 survey found that although 84 percent of public schools had a written response plan in the event of a shooting, only 52 percent had drilled their students on the plan during the previous year.
- Finalize requirements for private health insurance plans to cover mental health services under the healthcare overhaul of 2010.
Rolling out a wide-ranging plan for executive and legislative action to curb gun violence, Obama set up a fierce clash with the powerful U.S. gun lobby and its supporters in Congress, who are expected to resist what they see as an encroachment on constitutionally protected gun rights.
Obama presented his agenda at a White House event in front of an audience that included children from around the country, a poignant reminder of the 20 first-graders who were killed along with six adults by a lone gunman on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
"While reducing gun violence is a complicated challenge, protecting our children from harm shouldn't be a divisive one," Obama said.
Until now, Obama had done little to rein in America's weapons culture during his first four years in office. But just days before his second inauguration, he appears determined to champion gun control in his next term with a concerted drive for tighter laws and other steps aimed at preventing further tragedies like the one at Newtown.
The proposals stem from a month-long review led by Vice President Joe Biden, who on orders from Obama met with advocates on both sides, including representatives from the weapons and entertainment industries.
Obama's plan calls on Congress for a renewed prohibition on assault weapons sales that expired in 2004, a requirement for criminal background checks on all gun purchases, including closing a loophole for gun show sales, and a new federal gun trafficking law - long sought by big-city mayors to keep out-of-state guns off their streets.
He also announced 23 steps he intends to take immediately without congressional approval. These include improvements in the existing system for background checks, lifting the ban on federal research into gun violence, putting more counselors and "resource officers" in schools and improved access to mental health services.
The most politically contentious piece of the package is Obama's call for a renewed ban on military-style assault weapons, a move that Republicans who control the House of Representatives are expected to oppose.
The Newtown gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle to shoot his victims, many of them 6- and 7-year-olds, before killing himself.
Underscoring the tough political fight ahead, the National Rifle Association, launching a scathing advertising campaign against Obama's gun control effort and deployed its representatives in force on Capitol Hill.
The NRA, which says it has about 4 million members, took aim at Obama in a stinging TV and Internet spot, accusing him of being "just another elitist hypocrite" for accepting Secret Service protection for his two daughters but turning down the lobby group's proposal to put armed guards in all schools.
Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, the first elected official to comment on the president's speech Wednesday, said that he believe the president's efforts will not meet Congressional scrutiny and would do little to curb gun violence.
"I do not believe that bans on assault weapons or cartridges are the answer to ending mass acts of violence, nor will such measures pass Congress," Isakson said via a message on his Facebook account Wednesday afternoon. "As history shows us, the 10-year ban on assault weapons that was in effect from 1994 to 2004 failed to prevent the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The common threads running through these shootings are mental health issues. I believe that more effective and sensible solutions are those that focus on background checks and mental health care, rather than restrictions on our Second Amendment right to bear arms. I look forward to working for commonsense solutions that keep our children safe without infringing upon our Constitutional rights."
Obama's plan appears to tread cautiously on the question of whether violent movies and video games contribute to the gun violence, which would open up issues of freedom of expression.
A senior administration official said, however, that Obama would be asking for $10 million for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the root causes of gun violence, including any relationship to video games and media images.