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President Obama unveils $500M gun violence program

January 16, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday a $500 million program aimed at reducing gun violence following a mass shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 elementary school children.

The president called for a broad range of measures - some of which he is enacting through executive order. He used the power of the presidency to sign 23 executive actions that allow the government to crack down on gun crimes by tracking stolen guns and prosecuting people who use them. Background checks will also be improved with more mental health reporting and information sharing. School resources and mental health will be bolstered with more teachers and counselors.

But the big step on gun control, like the assault weapons ban, is something he is going to have to convince a divided Congress to support.

The president's case for tougher gun control includes not only a ban on assault weapons, but also a ban on high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.

"If there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved...then we have an obligation to try it," Mr. Obama said.

The president presented his plan at a White House news conference surrounded by victims of gun violence. Among them were the parents of some of the children killed last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Along with the weapons and magazine ban, Mr. Obama called on universal background checks, which would close the so-called gun show loophole.

"If you want to buy a gun, whether it's from a licensed dealer or a private seller, you should at least have to show you're not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from buying one. This is common sense," the president said.

The weapons ban and the background check proposal will require congressional action. Already, gun advocates are lining up against the ideas. Some feel the measures will only hurt law abiding citizens.

"If we're going to start blaming the weapon, where do we stop? The shotgun, the rifle only, .22s? This is a dangerous path that we're starting down," said Republican Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi.

Hours before the president and vice president addressed the nation, the National Rifle Association launched a preemptive strike. In a move to rally gun rights supporters, the NRA released this ad calling attention to how the Secret Service guards the president's daughters at their private school in Washington.

"Are the president's kids more important than yours?" the ad says. "Protection for their kids and gun-free zones for ours."

Democrats say the ad crosses the line.

"I was completely inappropriate to involve the president's children," said Nancy Pelosi. "They have protection because of national security."

Mr. Obama has insisted he won't back down from a fight.

"I will put everything I've got into this, and so will (Vice President) Joe (Biden)," the president said, "but I will tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it."

One measure proposed by the president that may get some support from gun owners is the president's plan to crack down on those who lie on back ground checks. In the past, the National Rifle Association has voiced some support for tougher enforcement of current laws.

Along with the limits on guns, the president's plan also calls for funding for mental health care services. The president will focus on more availability of mental health services, training more school counselors and mental health professionals, and mental health first aid training for first responders.

Meantime, the state of New York didn't wait on Washington. On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the toughest gun restrictions in the country, including a ban on assault weapons.

In Los Angeles, City Council Member Paul Krekorian is calling for city staff to study a ban on high-capacity magazines as well as the ammunition in city limits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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