US & Canada

In Colorado, Obama makes new push for gun control laws

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Media captionPresident Obama: "If you want to buy a gun... you should at least have to pass a background check... that's just common sense"

President Barack Obama has urged Congress to pass stalled US gun control legislation, saying the vast majority of Americans support new restrictions.

In Colorado, Mr Obama accused the gun lobby of instilling fears of government gun confiscation to rally opposition.

Gun control opponents maintain the US Constitution forbids the restrictions Mr Obama and gun control groups favour.

Meanwhile, the US state of Connecticut on Wednesday was set to enact its own sweeping new gun restrictions.

Among the Connecticut measures up for a vote are a ban on new high-capacity magazines and mandatory background checks on all gun purchasers, restrictions President Obama and gun control advocates say are necessary to curb America's epidemic of gun violence.

In Denver, Colorado on Wednesday, the president said he went there to speak "because Colorado is proving a model of what's possible".

Last month the western state, which has a deeply embedded culture of gun ownership, imposed limits on the size of ammunition magazines and expanded background checks for gun buyers.

'No conflict'

The long-dormant US gun control debate revived in December after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Mr Obama spoke at the Denver Police Academy in an effort to build support for new national gun control measures similar to those enacted in Colorado and elsewhere since December.

The national effort has stalled in the face of stiff opposition from the powerful gun rights lobby.

Image caption Gun shops in Connecticut reported increased sales as the legislation was announced on Monday

Mr Obama said Colorado was "a state of proud hunters and sportsmen" that "treasures" its right to own guns, but insisted there was "no conflict" between Colorado's tradition of gun ownership and the need for stricter regulation.

"This is a state that has suffered the tragedy of two of the worst mass shootings in our history - 14 years ago this month in Columbine, and just last year in Aurora," Mr Obama said, referring to a 1999 school shooting and a movie theatre massacre that killed 12 and wounded dozens in July 2012.

Mr Obama also said some gun rights advocates deliberately "ginned up fears" that the government planned to confiscate guns in order to bolster opposition to new restrictions. But he said those fears did not reflect reality and he pleaded with gun owners to set their peers straight.

In Washington, the US Congress is set to debate new gun control legislation this month.

Mr Obama, a Democrat, strongly backs the new proposals, but gun groups and their mostly Republican allies in the Senate have vowed to block them.

The measures up for consideration include broadened background checks and stiffened penalties for firearms trafficking. Leaders of the Senate Democratic majority have already dropped an assault weapons ban from the prospective legislation, saying it could not overcome the opposition.

In Denver, the US president said a large majority of Americans supported the measures and that lawmakers needed to hear from citizens who back them.

Mr Obama also said rural gun owners and city dwellers whose only experience with firearms was through street crime needed to come to a mutual understanding.

Colorado is one of several US states that have considered stricter gun legislation following the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado.

'Message' to Washington

On Wednesday, Connecticut Senate President Donald Williams Jr called a new gun control proposal in that state, which was unveiled on Monday after weeks of negotiation, a "strong, comprehensive bill".

"That is a message that should resound in 49 other states and in Washington DC," he said. "And the message is: 'We can get it done here and they should get it done in their respective states and nationally in Congress.'"

The bill passed the state Senate in a bipartisan 26-10 vote on Wednesday evening. The Connecticut House of Representatives was scheduled to vote later in the night, and it was expected to pass. Governor Dannel Malloy has pledged to sign it into law.

Connecticut's proposals include:

  • an expansion of the state's assault weapons ban
  • background checks for all prospective firearms purchasers, including in private transactions
  • a ban on the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds
  • a registry of weapons offenders
  • a state eligibility certificate to purchase a rifle or shotgun that involves a psychiatric commitment check

But gun rights groups argue the legislation would not have prevented the Newtown school shooting.

"They can register magazines and do all the rest of this stuff," said Robert Crook, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition of Sportsmen. "It isn't going to do anything."