US president Barack Obama may fail to outlaw high-power assault weapons, he admitted yesterday (Monday), as he was accused by Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, of jeopardising American lives by not confronting the gun lobby. Obama confirmed that he would propose a ban on guns such as that used in the massacre of 20 children at a school in Connecticut last month, but warned that it might be blocked by Congress.
He said he was committed to banning assault weapons, tightening background checks and regulating high-capacity ammunition, as well as other proposals drawn up by Joe Biden, the vice-president. "Will all of them get through this Congress? I don't know," he said at the White House. "My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to figure out what makes sense."
Harry Reid, the Democrats' leader in the Senate, was reported to be warning privately that he may not be able to deliver an assault weapons ban despite the party's majority. Democrats in conservative states fear that supporting it could end their careers.
The House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republicans - many of whom enjoy the backing of the National Rifle Association — is still less likely to support the reintroduction of a ban, which was allowed to lapse in 2004.
Bloomberg, America's most prominent gun control advocate, accused Washington politicians of doing the "gun lobby's bidding" to deadly effect. He heaped further pressure on Mr Obama by demanding that the president show "real leadership" on tackling gun violence during his second term, adding: "It has to start this week."
Detailing a seven-point plan for new measures, including the aggressive pursuit of people found to be lying in gun purchase applications, Bloomberg told a policy summit in Baltimore, Maryland, "Enough is enough. It is time for Congress and the White House to put public health above special interest politics."
Of 76,000 such cases referred to the US justice department by the FBI in 2010, only 44 resulted in prosecutions. "This is a joke, and it's a sad joke," said Bloomberg.
Noting that Obama is to be sworn in for another four-year term next week, he added: "Unless we take action, during those four years, some 48,000 Americans will be killed with guns - nearly twice as many people as were killed in combat during the entire Vietnam War." He urged Washington to show "political courage" and called for new controls on "military-style" firearms and the sort of high-capacity magazines used in several high-profile mass killings since 2010.
"These guns and equipment are not designed for sport or home defence," Bloomberg said. "They are designed to kill large numbers of people quickly. That's the only purpose they have."
Obama said he was considering how best to implement plans drawn up by Biden following the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary last month. Adam Lanza, 20, used an assault rifle as he killed the 20 children and six female teachers. The president confirmed that he would attempt to go round Congress and enact some by executive action, a move that would likely enrage pro-gun Republicans.
The mother of a British boy killed in the Connecticut massacre joined other grieving parents to launch a pressure group calling for action to prevent future mass killings. Speaking at the launch of The Sandy Hook Promise, Nicole Hockley, the mother of six-year-old Dylan Hockley, said: "I'm proud to be part of this town and I'm proud to stand before you to stand for my son Dylan and pledge my enduring support for this promise."
The group made no specific calls for new laws, calling instead for "conversations on all the issues".