WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama said Monday he's reviewing a list of proposals on how to reduce gun violence and expects to present specifics later this week, even as the country's top gun lobbying group insists Congress doesn't have enough votes to pass a ban on assault weapons that Obama says makes sense.
Obama told the final news conference of his first term in office that stronger background checks, a "meaningful" ban on assault weapons and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines are all ideas he said make sense. He said he's not sure how many of those measures can pass Congress, but he can also use the executive power of his office to make change.
Obama said he expects Congress to set aside politics and focus on common-sense steps that can make a difference. "Members of Congress are going to have to ... examine their own conscience," he said.
Obama asked Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force on ways to reduce violence after the December school shooting in Connecticut that killed 27 people, mostly children, exactly one month ago.
Obama is expected to announce the next steps on gun violence after he is inaugurated over the weekend and enters his second term.
The National Rifle Association has so far prevented passage of another assault weapons ban like the one that expired in 2004. But some lawmakers say last month's school shooting, by a gunman with a legally purchased high-powered rifle, has transformed the debate and that Americans are ready for stricter gun laws.
The NRA, with a history of punishing lawmakers who stray from its point of view, disagrees.
"When a president takes all the power of his office, if he's willing to expend political capital, you don't want to make predictions," NRA president David Keene told CNN on Sunday. "You don't want to bet your house on the outcome. But I would say that the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get an assault weapons ban through this Congress."
States and cities also have a say. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders had a tentative deal to enact the nation's first gun control measure since the Connecticut shooting, according to people familiar with the negotiations. That would further tighten gun laws in a state that already has among the nation's strictest. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal had not been discussed among all legislators.
And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued his vocal call for stricter gun control, urging Obama and Congress to increase background check requirements for firearms purchases and get tougher on gun trafficking.
"These guns are not designed for sport or home defense," Bloomberg said. "They are designed to kill large numbers of people quickly."
Meanwhile, U.S. senators plan to introduce a bill that would ban assault weapons and limit the size of ammunition magazines. But Republican Sen. John McCain responded with a flat-out "no" when asked Sunday on CBS whether Congress would pass a ban.
The NRA and other pro-gun groups insist that gun control conflicts with that Second Amendment guarantee, while others say the country's founders more than two centuries ago could not have imagined the kind of high-powered guns available now.
Keene says the group represents its members and not just gun manufacturers.
"We know what works and what doesn't work," Keene said. "And we're not willing to compromise on people's rights when there is no evidence that doing so is going to accomplish the purpose."
Instead, the NRA is pushing for measures that would keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Currently, a person is banned from buying a gun from a licensed dealer if the person is a fugitive, a felon, convicted of substance abuse, convicted of domestic violence, living in the U.S. illegally or someone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution."
States, however, are inconsistent in providing information about mentally ill residents to the federal government for background checks. The non-governmental Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said some 40 percent of gun sales happen with no background checks, often at gun shows or through private sellers over the Internet or in classified ads.