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Dec 22, 2012 05:21 PM IST | Source: ft.com

Obama releases gun control video

President Barack Obama is intensifying his effort to tighten gun laws in the wake of the shooting rampage at a Connecticut school, asking for the public's help in a video released on Friday in response to petitions for greater gun control posted on the White House website.


President Barack Obama is intensifying his effort to tighten gun laws in the wake of the shooting rampage at a Connecticut school, asking for the public's help in a video released on Friday in response to petitions for greater gun control posted on the White House website.


The video loaded onto YouTube just hours before the National Rifle Association, the pro-gun lobby, is due to hold a much-anticipated press conference at which it is expected to staunchly oppose any move towards stricter controls.


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"In the days since the heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, hundreds of thousands of you from all 50 states have signed petitions asking us to take serious steps to address the epidemic of gun violence in this country. We hear you," Mr�Obama says in the 2 minute, 49 second long video.


"You've started something, and now I'm asking you to keep at it. I'm asking for your help? to make sure the United States of America is a safer, stronger place for our children to learn and to grow."


Mr Obama called on US Congress to take up and pass "commonsense laws" that would ban�the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and to make�sure "criminals can't take advantage of legal loopholes to get their hands on a gun".


"I will do everything in my power as president to advance these efforts, because if there is even one thing that we can do as a country to protect our children, we have a responsibility to try," he said in the video.


The video was issued after petitions with more than 400,000 signatures were posted on the White House's "We the People" website calling for greater controls following last Friday's shootings.


Petitions relating to gun violence had become "one of the most popular petition issues since the site's launch", a White House official said.


One, a petition urging the president to "immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress" that was posted on the day of the Connecticut massacre, had collected more than 197,000 signatures by Friday morning.


It had become the fastest petition to reach the 25,000 signature threshold needed to qualify for an official response, the White House said.


Gun control, one of the most sensitive of political issues in the US, has leapt to the top of the legislative agenda following last week's school shooting, in which 26 people, including 20 six and seven-year olds, were killed.


The massacre has elicited nationwide horror and injected new momentum into efforts to ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, with Mr Obama saying he will make gun control a "central issue" in his second term and will include specific proposals in his State of the Union address next month.


After barely a word on gun control in his first term - and no action following the other six mass shootings that have occurred in the US this year - the president has apparently decided that the national mood is ripe for action.


"We know this is a complex issue that stirs deeply held passions and political divides," Mr Obama said on Wednesday, setting up an inter-agency task force led by Vice-president Joe Biden to develop a comprehensive strategy to reduce gun crime.


"But the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," he said in his third set of remarks on gun control in five days.


The fact that the White House is grouping together similar petitions and responding immediately to them underscores its desire to keep the momentum behind the issue, in contrast to the response to previous massacres, where calls for greater gun controls have petered out.


The "We The People" online petition project was pioneered by the White House to allow people to post and sign petitions about any issue they were concerned about. When a petition attracts 25,000 signatures, the White House begins formulating a response.


Many of the petitions are about fringe issues - including lobbying for the construction of a Death Star and another protecting beagles - and do not receive a response even after reaching the threshold.


Petitions calling for an end to the tax-exempt status of the Westboro Baptist Church have collectively received almost 400,000 signatures but have not received an official response. The Kansas-based church has been labelled a "homophobic and anti-Semitic hate group" by the Anti-Defamation League because it pickets the funerals of American soldiers, children and Aids victims.


It is unlikely a coincidence that the president's video was released on the same morning that the NRA will hold a press conference on the Connecticut shootings and the public outrage that has ensued.


After being criticised for its silence in the days after the massacre, the NRA on Tuesday released a statement saying it wanted to make a "meaningful contribution" to ensuring such shooting rampages never occurred again.


Officials will face reporters in Washington on Friday morning, before the NRA's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, and president, David Keene, appear on the agenda-setting Sunday morning talk shows.

Analysts expect the appearances to mark the start of a concerted effort to push back against calls for gun control. After previous mass shootings, the NRA has insisted that mental health services, not access to guns, need to be the focus of the response.

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