Obama to unveil gun violence plans to "prevent future tragedies"

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States (US) President Barack Obama will on Wednesday unveil comprehensive plans to thwart America's scourge of gun violence, surrounded by children who wrote to him after last month's Newtown massacre.

Mr Obama will unveil "concrete" proposals to "prevent future tragedies" like the horror in the Connecticut school in which 20 young children and six adults were killed by a gunman with an assault rifle, his spokesman Jay Carney said.

He will be joined at the event at the White House at 1645 GMT (12.45am on Thursday, Singapore time) by his young correspondents, who wrote to express fears about gun violence and school safety after the horror in Newtown on Dec 14, and their parents.

The plans, drawn up after an exhaustive policy review by Vice President Joe Biden in the last month, are expected to include a mix of legislative plans and executive orders using presidential power.

Key White House players have hinted the package could include efforts to renew a law banning assault weapons that expired in 2004, curbs on high capacity magazine clips and universal background checks for gun purchases.

Mr Obama may also suggest ways of improving mental health care, following a spree of shootings by disturbed gunmen who fell through the cracks of the existing medical system.

But the fate of those measures that require Congress to act, against the power of the pro-gun lobby, is unclear, after Mr Obama himself questioned on Monday whether there would be sufficient support among lawmakers.

"The president is committed to pushing these proposals," Mr Carney told reporters.

"He is not naive about the challenges that exist, but he believes that... if even one child's life can be saved by the actions we take here in Washington, we must take those actions."

The Washington news organisation Politico reported on Tuesday that the White House had pulled together 19 executive actions that Mr Obama could take unilaterally, designed to enforce and implement existing laws.

But officials, seeking to avoid a backlash and political ammunition for pro-gun groups, repeatedly stressed that Mr Obama believes in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution that enshrines the right to bear arms.

Mr David Keene, president of the top gun rights group the National Rifle Association (NRA) told CNN on Sunday that an assault weapons ban was unlikely to make it through Congress.

The NRA opposes most of the White House's likely proposals, and has instead called for armed guards at every US school.

But Mr Obama on Monday called on lawmakers to examine their consciences over whether the carnage at Sandy Hook elementary school should prompt a new approach.

"My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works. What should we be doing to make sure that our children are safe?" Mr Obama said at a White House press conference.

Mr Biden met an NRA representative along with other gun rights groups last week as part of his gun policy review. He also sat down with victim support groups, and mental health and law enforcement specialists.

He also looked into the idea that violent content in video games and movies could spur disturbed people to carry out appalling acts and met Democratic lawmakers, as he seeks to plot a route through Congress for the reforms.

The Newtown tragedy may prove a catalyst for a new push for gun control, after little was done following earlier mass shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin and Arizona, and a daily rash of killings in US inner cities.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll found most Americans support banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The poll found high support for some shifts: 88 per cent favour background checks on buyers at gun shows; 76 per cent urge checks on buyers of ammunition; 71 per cent back the creation of a new federal database to track all gun sales; and 65 per cent back banning high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Democratic congressman Nita Lowey said on Tuesday she hoped the new polls would help whittle down resistance to gun control in Congress.

"I would hope that the Senate and the House wake up and understand - the American people are fed up, that they absolutely support the assault weapon ban, and all the other provisions that the task force has been working on."