U.S. President Barack Obama is taking aim at gun violence with a set of proposals expected to ignite a political fight with pro-gun groups and their supporters.
Obama called for lawmakers to quickly pass several proposals, saying keeping children safe is "our first task as a society."
"Let us do the right thing. Let us do the right thing for them and for this country that we love so much," he said.
Obama was joined Wednesday by school children who wrote to him about gun violence following the December 14 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 20 children and six teachers.
He has called that day the worst of his presidency and warned that what lawmakers do, or fail to do, will resonate with future generations.
"This is how we will be judged and their voices [children's voices] should compel us to change," said the president.
Obama's proposals include banning assault-style weapons, universal background checks for gun sales, and boosting mental health services. The president also signed 23 executive orders to help give law enforcement and mental health professionals more tools in combating gun violence.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio voiced strong concerns about Obama's proposals, issuing a statement Wednesday saying "Nothing the President is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook [in Newtown]." Rubio also pledged to "oppose the president’s attempts to undermine Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.”
The National Rifle Association
has been critical of gun-control efforts, saying "gun-control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime."
On Tuesday, the largest U.S. gun-rights lobbying group launched an ad campaign to preemptively attack the president's plan. The ad calls Obama an "elitist hypocrite" for allowing armed security guards to protect his school-aged daughters, while rejecting a proposal for armed guards in every school.
The White House has called the NRA ad "repugnant and cowardly.'' And during Wednesday's news conference, Vice President Joe Biden said such thinking is out-of-date.
"The world has changed and it is demanding action," he said.
After the president's announcement, supporters expressed hope there would finally be some movement to crack down on gun violence.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
, said it appears many Americans have had enough.
"This is certainly the most hopeful moment on this issue in well over a decade. And a lot of it is obviously because of the public outrage and sympathy," he said.
A number of new polls shows many Americans appear to be more receptive to stronger government restrictions on guns.
An Associated Press-GfK
poll found a majority of Americans favor a ban on military-style rapid-fire weapons and 84 percent want to see a nationwide standard for background checks for anyone wanting to buy a gun.
Another poll released this week by the Pew Research Center
found 55 percent of Americans favor bans on assault-style weapons while 85 percent want stronger background checks for gun buyers.
Tuesday, New York state became the first in the nation to impose tougher gun-control measures in the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings. The law expands the state's ban on assault-style weapons and requires background checks for anyone seeking to buy ammunition. It also puts limits on ammunition capacity and includes provisions intended to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
The White House gun proposal fact sheet: