Obama makes big gun-control push

US gun-control comes under the spotlight as Obama makes moves to curb gun violence.

US president Barack Obama. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama launched the biggest U.S. gun-control push in generations on Wednesday.

He urged Congress to approve an assault weapons ban and background checks for all gun buyers to prevent mass shootings like the Newtown school massacre.

Rolling out a wide-ranging plan for executive and legislative action to curb gun violence, Obama set up a fierce clash with the powerful U.S. gun lobby and its supporters in Congress, who will resist what they see as an encroachment on constitutionally protected gun rights.

Obama presented his agenda at a White House event in front of an audience that included relatives of some of the 20 first-graders who were killed along with six adults by a gunman on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

"We can't put this off any longer," Obama said, vowing to use "whatever weight this office holds" to make his proposals reality.

"Congress must act soon."

In an indication of how bitter the political fight over gun control could be, the National Rifle Association released an advertisement hours before Obama spoke that accused the president of hypocrisy for accepting armed Secret Service protection for his daughters.

The White House condemned the ad as "repugnant."

Until now, Obama had done little to change America's gun culture.

But just days before his second inauguration, he appears determined to champion gun control in his next term, which also will be dominated by debt fights with Congress and a likely debate over immigration reform.

His plan calls on Congress to renew a prohibition on assault weapons sales that expired in 2004, require criminal background checks on all gun purchases, including closing a loophole for gun show sales, and pass a new federal gun trafficking law -- long sought by big-city mayors to keep out-of-state guns off their streets.

He also announced 23 steps he intends to take immediately without congressional approval.

These include improvements in the existing system for background checks, lifting the ban on federal research on gun violence, putting more counsellors and "resource officers" in schools and better access to mental health services.