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President Barack Obama high-fives eight-year-old Hinna Zejah after unveiling a series of gun control proposals during an event at the White House on Wednesday. Hinna and her mother, Nadia, were among a group of children and families of children who wrote the president letters about guns and gun control after the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Obama vows to fight for assault-weapons ban, other controls on guns

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama pledged Wednesday to put the full weight of his office behind the nation's most aggressive gun control plan in generations as he hopes to decrease the number of mass shootings and acts of random violence.

He proposed banning assault weapons, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, requiring background checks on all gun purchases, penalizing those who buy guns from unlicensed dealers, hiring 1,000 more school resource officers and spending millions more on training, research and counseling.

The sweeping package - much of which needs approval from Congress - came a month after a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., left 26 people, including 20 children, dead.

In an emotional midday speech at the White House complex, a somber Obama recalled the innocent Americans who have been killed in a string of mass shootings: at a movie theater last summer in Aurora, Colo.; at a Sikh temple a few weeks later in Oak Creek, Wis.; at a shopping center last month in Clackamas, Ore.; and at Virginia Tech in 2007.

"While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try," Obama said, standing near four young children who had written him letters after the Newtown shooting.

Obama's announcement set off a fierce debate on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and some Democrats oppose changes that they fear would chip away at the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

"I am concerned that many of his (Obama's) proposals infringe on the rights of law-abiding firearm owners, which will not prevent a deranged individual or criminal from obtaining and misusing firearms to commit violence," New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte said.

Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter said she agreed with the President's "comprehensive approach."

"I will not and cannot forget the never-ending scenes of families and communities in shock and mourning, and I will not ignore the calls of our citizens to do something to help stop the violence."

Fellow New Hampshire Democrat Annie Kuster said: "Both parties need to come together to take a comprehensive, common sense approach that's focused on strengthening the enforcement of existing laws, improving access to mental health services, and protecting our communities from military-style assault weapons."

Leaders of the Democratic-led Senate expect to begin debate in two weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, the politically powerful National Rifle Association accused the President of "attacking firearms and ignoring children."

"The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law," the group said.

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