Skip to main content

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 14, 2013.JASON REED/Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday offered support for a ban on assault weapons as part of a "sensible" effort to reduce gun violence, while saying he could take smaller steps by executive order.

At a White House press conference a month after the Newtown massacre, Mr. Obama backed restricting high capacity magazines and better background checks for gun buyers but acknowledged that some proposals may fail to pass in Congress.

"If there is a step that we can take that will save even one child from what happened in Newtown, we should take that step," Mr. Obama said of the elementary school massacre that left 26 people dead, plus the shooter.

"The belief that we have to have stronger background checks, that we can do a much better job in terms of keeping these magazine clips with high capacity out of the hands of folks who shouldn't have them, an assault weapons ban that is meaningful... those are things I continue to believe make sense.

"Will all of them get through this Congress? I don't know. But what's uppermost in my mind is making sure I'm honest with the American people and with members of Congress about what I think will work," Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama said that cabinet members led by Vice-President Joe Biden have "presented me now with a list of sensible common sense steps that can be taken to make sure that the kind of violence we saw at Newtown doesn't happen again."

Mr. Obama, who will be inaugurated for his second term next Monday, said he would present details on guns later this week.

Mr. Biden was tasked after the Newtown massacre to meet with key players on guns including the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobby which has adamantly opposed any restrictions on the U.S. freedom to bear arms.

Mr. Obama stood by comments by Mr. Biden that the President could take some measures on guns by executive order – which do not require approval by Congress.

Asked what action he could take on his own, Mr. Obama said that it could relate to "how we are gathering data, for example on guns that fall into the hands of criminals, and how we track that more effectively."

Gun rights advocates have responded angrily to suggestions that Mr. Obama would use an executive order and one prominent website likened him to Hitler.

Federal lists of gun owners are a long-standing bugbear for hardline U.S. conservatives who fear they would be a first step to confiscation.

"Part of the challenge that we confront is that even the slightest hint of some sensible, responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that somehow, here it comes, and that everybody's guns are going to be taken away," Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama said that his first term showed that he had not infringed on the right to bear arms and suggested that criticism may have an "economic element," with the gun industry trying to increase sales.

Mr. Obama also demanded Monday that Congress raise the federal debt limit quickly, warning that "Social Security benefits and veterans checks will be delayed if they don't," and warning Republicans not to demand concessions in exchange.

"They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the economy," he said at the final news conference of his first term. "The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. And they better decide quickly because time is running short."

Mr. Obama opened his news conference with a statement noting that a vote to increase the debt limit "does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already agreed to. These are bills we've already racked up and we need to pay them."

Mr. Obama said he was willing to consider future deficit cuts, but only if they are done independently from a vote to raise the $16.4-trillion (U.S.) debt limit.

Combined with other bills he signed earlier in the term, he said he and Congress have reduced deficits by about $2.5-trillion over a decade, somewhat less than the $4-trillion he said is necessary to get them down to a manageable size.

"I'm happy to have a conversation about how we reduce our deficits in a sensible way," he said, but added repeatedly he wasn't willing to let congressional Republicans use the debt limit as leverage in negotiations over spending cuts.

Failure to raise the debt limit would put the United States into a first-ever default, a step that Mr. Obama said could "blow up the economy."

With a report from The Associated Press