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article imageObama to force through gun control measures

By Andrew Beatty (AFP)     Jan 4, 2016 in Politics

President Barack Obama will introduce a raft of executive actions to try to reduce US gun violence Tuesday, bypassing Congress and launching a bitter 2016 election year fight.

Kicking off his last year in the White House with a defiant show of executive power, Obama will ignore Congressional opposition and take a series of unilateral steps to regulate gun sales and curb illicit purchases.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the measures would see tighter rules on who must register as a gun dealer, narrow loopholes that allow buyers to dodge background checks and a crackdown on "straw purchases" that see weapons purchased through intermediaries.

Obama will address the new measures -- which Republicans, gun makers and weapons enthusiasts have already lambasted as an infringement of constitutional freedoms -- in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday.

Around 30,000 people are killed in gun violence every year in America, most by suicide.

US President Barack Obama (R) speaks with Attorney Genral Loretta Lynch in the Oval Office of the Wh...
US President Barack Obama (R) speaks with Attorney Genral Loretta Lynch in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, January 4, 2016
Jim Watson, AFP

During Obama's seven years as president, he has often shown frustration at Congress's refusal to tighten gun controls, most notably after the slaughter of Connecticut schoolchildren, South Carolina churchgoers and Colorado movie watchers.

The measures will stop well short of introducing universal background checks or registering or collecting some of the more than 300 million guns already thought to be in circulation in the United States, moves that gun control advocates say are essential.

Obama admitted his executive actions were "not going to solve every violent crime in this country. It's not going to prevent every mass shooting. It's not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal."

"It will," he said, "potentially, save lives in this country" and spare families heartache.

But even in taking limited measures, by acting alone and against the will of Congress, Obama has invited political and legal risk.

President Barack Obama will take a series of unilateral steps to end what he has called "the sc...
President Barack Obama will take a series of unilateral steps to end what he has called "the scourge of gun violence"
Mandel Ngan, AFP

Republicans who control Congress have positioned themselves as the champion of gun owners, who make up a sizeable voting bloc in many areas that could decide 2016 election races.

The speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, on Monday accused Obama of "dismissiveness" toward Americans who value the constitutional right to bear arms.

"We all are pained by the recent atrocities in our country, but no change the president is reportedly considering would have prevented them," said Ryan. "We have seen consistently that an underlying cause of these attacks has been mental illness."

"This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it," Ryan warned.

Polls had shown most Americans back tougher gun laws. But that support has ebbed recently amid concerns about the Islamic State group and the wider threat from terrorism.

Demonstrators take part in a rally to demand “sensible” gun laws in front of the White House on ...
Demonstrators take part in a rally to demand “sensible” gun laws in front of the White House on January 4, 2016 in Washington
Mandel Ngan, AFP

Obama's move could put pressure on some of his Democratic allies who face tough election battles in toss-up states and conservative congressional districts this autumn.

On Thursday, Obama will take part in a primetime town-hall style debate on gun control to try to boost his case.

The event, broadcast by CNN, will take place at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

- 'Scrubbing the law' -

A more serious challenge may come through the courts.

Obama's lawyers have spent months "scrubbing" existing laws to see where rules could be tightened and loopholes closed, while surviving inevitable court challenges.

"A lot of the work that has gone on behind the scenes to take a look at what the president can do using his executive authority has been grounded in the knowledge that the gun lobby and the Republicans in Congress who regularly do their bidding are going to look for ways to try to stop it," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Ahead of the announcement Obama insisted the measures would fall "well within my legal authority."

But similar executive efforts by Obama to bring millions of illegal immigrants out of the shadows by shielding them from deportation have prompted a slew of lawsuits and left a key Obama policy goal in the hands of the Supreme Court.

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