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Unveiling gun control initiative, Obama cites 'common-sense measures'

President Obama shared the stage with schoolchildren as he announced a gun control plan to combat violence. Top of the list: banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, making schools safer, and improving mental health services.

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Obama faced criticism for appearing to use children as props in his effort to enact controversial legislation. But that was the point: The fact that so many children – 20 first-graders – were killed in Newtown touched Obama like nothing else in his presidency, he has said himself, and he has made gun control a top priority as he starts his second term.

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“In the days ahead I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make [new gun laws] a reality,” Obama said, “because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is 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.”

A new ban on assault weapons may be the hardest to enact. An earlier ban was in place from 1994 to 2004, but expired amid opposition by members of Congress from both parties and by the gun lobby. Gun rights activists have said the law was ineffective, as gun manufacturers easily found ways around it. Ditto the accompanying ban on high-capacity magazines, those that contain more than 10 rounds. But pro-gun forces still oppose such measures, saying they represent the start of a “slippery slope” toward more restrictive measures on gun ownership.

The measure providing for a “universal background check” for gun purchases may have a better chance at passing, given strong public support.

During his remarks, Obama sought repeatedly to reassure gun owners that he respects their rights, as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

“I respect our strong tradition of gun ownership and the rights of hunters and sportsmen,” he said. “There are millions of responsible, law-abiding gun owners in America who cherish their right to bear arms for hunting or sport or protection or collection.”

He added that he believes most gun owners agree that guns should be kept out of the hands of “dangerous people.”

What the president didn’t say explicitly is that he is willing to go along with the proposal by the National Rifle Association that armed guards be added to schools – at least for those schools that wish to have them.

But in the administration’s written fact sheet on Obama’s initiative, the go-ahead for additional armed guards is there.

“Each school is different and should have the flexibility to address its most pressing needs,” the statement says. “Some schools will want trained and armed police; others may prefer increased counseling services. Either way, each district should be able to choose what is best to protect its own students.”

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