President Barack Obama signs executive orders designed to curb gun violence, including an enhanced background check system for gun buyers.(Mitchell Armentrout/Medill)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Wednesday unveiled his gun-control proposals, including a prohibition on high capacity ammunition magazines, expanded background checks for gun purchases and a new assault weapons ban.

The White House announcement called for both legislative and executive actions. Obama said he would go ahead with 23 measures on his own authority without asking for congressional approval. Many of his executive orders involved mental health and school safety measures, as well as a crackdown on the enforcement of current gun laws.

“If there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try,” Obama said.

In an emotional ceremony, Obama stood on a stage flanked by four young children who wrote him letters asking for stronger gun laws after December’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The president cited the memory of Grace McDonnell, a seven-year-old killed in the shooting. He said he would not let momentum for new gun laws fade.

“This is our first task as a society,” he said, “keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged, and their voices should compel us to change.”

Obama was joined onstage by four children who had written letters asking him to do something in response to the recent rash of gun violence in the U.S.

Obama was joined onstage by four children who had written letters asking him to do something in response to the recent rash of gun violence in the U.S. (Mitchell Armentrout/Medill)


Obama spoke to a room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building filled with gun- control advocates, family members of Newtown victims, lawmakers , and select mayors—in Washington for the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He told them all about a painting by Grace, given to him by  her father.  The president said the painting hangs in his White House study to continuously remind him of the need to protect “the most vulnerable” citizens.

The shooting rampage in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 killed 20 small children and six adults. Obama has called the day the worst in his presidency.

“In the days ahead,” the president vowed, “I intend to use whatever weight this office holds” to make his recommendations a reality.

Obama’s plan includes ending a freeze on funding of gun violence research, reinstating and strengthening the assault weapons ban so manufactures are not able to circumvent the prohibition with cosmetic modifications to their weapons and restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines. All of these ideas would require legislative action.

Another administration priority is to close background check loopholes in existing law by requiring all private sellers to run criminal background checks for gun sales, closing the “gun show loophole.”

“Too often, irresponsible and dangerous individuals have been able to easily get their hands on firearms,” the White House said in a fact sheet. “We must strengthen our efforts to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands.”

Obama called on legislators to respond quickly to his gun-control proposals. "We can't put this off any longer. Congress must act soon," he said.

Obama called on legislators to respond quickly to his gun-control proposals. “We can’t put this off any longer. Congress must act soon,” he said. (Gideon Resnick/Medill)

The proposals are the result of a month-long review led by Biden and given to Obama Monday. The vice president’s panel drafted the recommendations after meeting with  stakeholders in the gun violence debate including the entertainment industry and the National Rifle Association.

Speaking before then president, Biden said “we have a moral obligation” to diminish the prospect that tragedies such as last month’s massacre in  Connecticut could happen again.

“I have no illusions about what we’re up against,” he said. “The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.”

But the administration’s efforts are expected to face resistance on Capitol Hill where the NRA and many lawmakers from both parties oppose any significant changes in gun laws.

“This will be difficult,” Obama admitted. “There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty, not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., said in a radio interview this week that an assault weapons ban couldn’t pass Congress because of opposition from House Republicans.

Many Republicans are already condemning any new limits on buying or owning firearms or their accessories.

“I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment,” Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, warned Monday.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez,D-Calif., said Tuesday that an assault weapons or high-capacity magazine ban would be a hard sell even among House Democrats from more rural areas in the South or Midwest because many of their constituents largely support gun ownership.