President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced his new plan to reduce gun violence but also blasted the National Rifle Association for a new ad contrasting the armed protection that Obama's two daughters are given to the president's opposition to putting armed guards in schools.
"Most Americans agree that a president's children should not be used as pawns in a political fight," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "But to go so far as to make the safety of the President's children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly."
At the Old Executive Office Building, Obama announced the first sweeping gun control proposals to come from the White House in a generation, though his efforts are already being met by stiff resistance from pro-gun forces.
Surrounded by gun control advocates, members of Congress and children who wrote to the White House since December's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Obama laid out proposals he will push Congress to pass in the coming months and 23 executive actions his administration will begin implementing immediately.
"This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged," Obama said. "We can't put this off any longer."
Obama on Wednesday announced what he called a "common sense measures" plan to reduce gun violence, including legislation for a universal background check and new bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. The president also announced 23 executive actions covering changes to education and mental health that he announced would sign immediately.
"I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality," Obama said. "If there's even one thing that we can do to reduce this violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we have an obligation to try. And I'm going to do my part."
Obama also called for Congress to confirm his new nominee, Todd Jones, to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Jones has been acting director for more than a year, but Congress has blocked the confirmation of a new agency director for the past six years. Obama had previously nominated Andrew Traver, who leads the agency's Denver division, for the job.
Obama warned that the effort to pass the new guns legislation would be difficult, but called on people across the country to join him in pressuring Congress and pundits to support the efforts.
"We have to examine ourselves and our hearts and ask ourselves what is important," Obama said. "This will not happen unless the American people demand it."
Invoking the memory of those killed in the Newtown, Conn. massacre, Vice President Joe Biden, who led Obama's gun task force to develop recommendations, said "The world has changed, and it's demanding action."
Obama called on lawmakers to back legislation that would renew the assault weapons ban, require background checks for all gun sales, root out gun trafficking, and end the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines and armor-piercing bullets. Aware of the challenges of getting gun-related bills passed, Obama is also taking steps on his own, directing federal agencies to take steps to strengthen the background check system, to improve mental health care, and to better track lost and stolen guns, among other measures.
Many questions remain about Obama's plan. Senior administration officials said that none of the new proposals would necessarily have prevented Newtown or other recent gun massacres, but did reiterate what the president has been saying since he launched his Newtown response, that actions that save even one child's life are worthwhile.
The White House said it has not estimated how many lives would be saved if all the new proposals were adopted, in part because there has been limited study of gun violence. And it offered no strategy of how the president will seek to persuade a skeptical Congress to pass his legislation.
Obama will mount a comprehensive campaign to back his gun violence plans, senior administration officials said. He will push information to supporters through his official web site and may conduct a road show to boost his efforts, officials said. And Biden reminded a group of Democratic members of Congress he met with Monday that the White House has Obama's campaign apparatus at its disposal.
"It is clear that public opinion is going to be on the side of what the president lays out today," a senior administration official said before Obama's event.
Obama will also ask Congress for $10 million in the 2014 budget to conduct research into violence in video games, television and the movies.
Other executive orders will include planks on education and mental health, providing federal resources for anti-bullying efforts and training for school counselors and first responders. The White House will seek to hire 1,000 school resource officers.
But the biggest-ticket items will be the White House push to close the so-called gun-show loophole by requiring universal background checks, banning assault weapons and ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds and a new gun-trafficking law long sought by big-city mayors.
An assault weapons ban would bring back a prohibition from the 1994 crime bill that lapsed in 2004. With gun manufacturers simply altering how guns were made to get around the ban, it ultimately was less effective than advocates had hoped. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who will introduce an updated version of the ban next week, will propose in her new legislation a simpler and broader federal definition of an assault rifle, her office said.
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