WASHINGTON (AFP) - Thousands of people marched in Washington on Saturday to demand stronger gun control legislation, in a solemn rally backed by the US Education Secretary, the city's mayor and other top officials.
The demonstration came six weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in which 20 young children and six adults were shot dead, sparking a furious national debate over gun ownership.
The protesters marched in silence for around 30 minutes along the National Mall near the Capitol and Washington Monument, carrying white placards marked with the names and pictures of gun crime victims.
"No more talk. We must act, we must act, we must act," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, telling the crowd that when he headed up a network of Chicago schools from 1990 to 2000, "we buried a child due to gun violence every two weeks." "This has to change. Our children, our families, our communities, our country deserve better," he said to thunderous applause.
Around 270 million guns are in circulation in the United States - almost one weapon for every man, woman and child - where, in 2011 alone, more than 32,000 people were fatally gunned down.
Mr Duncan pledged, that "on behalf of President Obama and the vice-president we will do everything in our power to make sure that we pass a legislation that makes our children, our families, our communities safer." In the wake of the Connecticut deaths, Mr Obama signed 23 executive orders and also called on Congress to pass new laws in a series of sweeping measures aimed at addressing gun violence.
The proposed measures include a ban on military-style assault rifles and the closing of loopholes that allow many gun buyers to avoid background checks.
But securing congressional action will be difficult as many Republicans are vehemently opposed to the White House's plans, contending that the measures will infringe upon American citizens' constitutional right to bear arms.
Opposition to new laws is not purely along party lines. Some Democrats from states where hunting and sport shooting are popular support gun rights.
An ABC News poll this week found 53 per cent of Americans support Mr Obama's gun control plans, while 41 per cent view it unfavourably.