Obama comes under new pressure to support tougher gun control measures

President Obama came under new pressure to support tougher restrictions on guns Friday after 20 school children were killed in a shooting in Connecticut.

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Advocates for gun control held a vigil outside the White House on Friday and criticized White House spokesman Jay Carney, who after the tragedy said “today is not the day” to discuss gun control.

The comments also drew criticism from some lawmakers and politicians.

In his own remarks — which came after Carney’s comments were ripped by some lawmakers and other gun control advocates — Obama recited a string of deadly U.S. shootings and strongly suggested he’d seek new measures on gun control.


“It is time to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” Obama said.

Yet these comments also came under criticism from gun control advocates who noted that in Obama’s first term restrictions on the possession of guns were in some ways loosened.

“Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response.”

Some Republicans noted that with details of the incident still sketchy, it was dangerous to jump to conclusions that tougher restrictions on guns might have prevented the deaths of the 26 people killed by the gunman, who later committed suicide, at the school. The shooter also reportedly killed his mother at their home before driving to the school.

A source tells the Associated Press that two pistols and a rifle were found inside the school, adding that all the weapons were registered to shooter's slain mother.

“We need to find out what happened and what drove this individual to this place,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). “I think we have to be careful about new — suggesting new gun laws. We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions and make sure that we’re enforcing the laws that are currently on the books. And yes, definitely, we need to do everything possible to make sure that something like this never happens again.”

Either way, it appeared the gravity of Friday’s violence — many of the children killed were reportedly kindergartners — had the potential to re-shape the gun debate.

“The country needs [the president] to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem,” said Bloomberg, the co-chairman of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group.

While Obama’s comments are his most forceful yet on the issue, his record on the subject of gun control is anything but reassuring to lawmakers and groups hoping to tighten the country’s regulations.

People rushed to buy guns in the run-up to Obama’s inauguration in 2009, fearing he would make it more difficult to obtain firearms. But Obama’s main actions in the White House during his first time have been to loosen gun laws by allowing people to carry firearms on Amtrak trains and in national parks.

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Doubts have also crept in as to whether Obama is willing to expend the political capital that will likely be necessary to pass legislation making it more difficult for people with criminal histories or mental illnesses to buy guns. With issues such as immigration reform, “fiscal cliff” negotiations, and the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison looming, the fight against conservative lawmakers may be too politically taxing for Obama.

Obama, however, does not have to worry about getting reelected in four years, giving him more room to maneuver on controversial issues. And his comments on Friday were not the first time that he’s indicated a desire to push forward with gun control legislation.

During his debate in October against former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Obama said he was in favor of reinstating the country’s ban on the purchase of assault weapons. Obama curbed his answer, however, by emphasizing his firm belief in the Second Amendment while stressing the importance of addressing other safeguards against gun violence, such as improving family life and education.

Nevertheless, previous calls for tougher gun laws — including mandatory background checks at gun shows and mental health screenings — have fallen on deaf ears, including earlier this year after a gunman shot 70 people, killing 12, in a Colorado movie theater.

The topic was raised again, one month later, when a man shot and killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. And again, earlier this week, after two people were shot dead in an Oregon mall before the killer took his own life.

Opponents of gun restrictions — including conservative lawmakers and the highly influential National Rifle Association (NRA) argue that it would violate a person’s rights under the Second Amendment to impose new restrictions on guns.

The group also argues that gun restrictions have not been shown to lessen gun violence. The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.

Some gun control advocates said they were heartened by Obama’s remarks that he would move on the issue this time.

“We were moved by President Obama's raw emotion during his remarks today,” said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, referring to Obama’s tearing up during his press conference. “We are committed to working with him to channel it into the change that is too long overdue.”

-- This story was originally published at 6:00 a.m. and last updated at 8:48 a.m.