Obama throws support behind assault weapon ban

Obama throws support behind assault weapon ban

Obama throws support behind assault weapon ban

Updated 19 December 2012, 10:13 AEST

Schools in the US community of Newtown reopen, as Barack Obama throws his support behind a proposed ban on assault weapons.

As schools reopen in the US community devastated by last week's shooting massacre, US president Barack Obama has thrown his weight behind a bill to reintroduce a ban on civilians owning assault weapons.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president would support a law proposed by Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein to prohibit the arms, defined as certain types of semi-automatic firearm with removable magazines.

"He is actively supportive of, for example, Senator Feinstein's stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the assault weapons ban," he said, when asked what Mr Obama would do about gun control.

Mr Carney said Mr Obama would also support any move to ban high-capacity clips - magazines that hold dozens of rounds - and close the so-called "gun show loophole" that allows unlicensed individuals to sell guns privately.

Ms Feinstein vowed on Monday to bring the bill forward, telling CNN: "It's going to be strong, and it's going to be definitive. And it's going to ban by name at least 100 military-style semi-automatic assault weapons."

On Sunday the president attended a vigil in Newtown where he told mourners that America had failed its basic task - looking after its children - and said "we will have to change" to avoid more mass shootings.

"Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?" he said.

The issue of gun control in the US is an extremely complex one, with opposition from a strong gun lobby.

A previous 10-year ban on military-style assault weapons was allowed to expire in 2004, and many US citizens have since rushed to arm themselves with semi-automatic versions of rifles like the Kalashnikov or the AR-15.

On Friday, 20-year-old man Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle in an attack on a Connecticut elementary school, killing six staff and 20 children aged six or seven in a hail of high-velocity .223 rounds.

Police have warned it could take months for them to finish their investigation into the attack, which started on Friday when Lanza killed his mother, Nancy, at home.

The president has long supported a return of the assault weapons ban, but did nothing in his first term to put his own political muscle behind attempts to revive it.

America has suffered an epidemic of gun violence over the past three decades, including 62 mass shooting sprees since 1982, three of the deadliest in the second half of this year alone.

The vast majority of weapons used have been semi-automatic handguns or military-style assault weapons obtained legally by the killers.

'Start healing'

Newtown local Ed Belanger tells Jane Cowan "it's getting harder" as the first funerals are heldVideo: Newtown local Ed Belanger tells Jane Cowan "it's getting harder" as the first funerals are held (ABC News)

For residents in Newtown, the focus is on attempting to return to a semblance of normality, with six schools today opening their doors to grieving students and faculty members.

In a sign of the heavy hearts in this picturesque New England town, the front grills of all school buses were decorated with green-and-white bows, the colours of Sandy Hook Elementary, where the shooting took place.

"The bows were hand-made overnight by the company's owners and employees," Joan Baumgart of All-Star Transportation, which runs 50 school buses in Newtown, said.

Classes began with up to two hours delay and extra security was posted outside buildings, with a squad car at Newtown Middle School and lines of yellow police tape keeping away journalists at Saint Rose Elementary.

At Hawley Elementary School, a couple accompanying their young son held hands and hugged the policeman at the entrance.

"He was very happy to get back with his friends," one mother said, declining to give her name. But the father said he could not describe his emotions on what should have been an ordinary school run.

"There are no words. Just tears," he said.

Newtown Police Lieutenant George Sinko hopes the presence of police will ease at least some of the worries of the roughly 4,700 returning students and their families.

"Obviously, there's going to be a lot of apprehension. We just had a horrific tragedy," he said.

"We had babies sent to school that should be safe and they weren't.

"You can't help but think ... if this could happen again."

Newtown High School principal Charles Dumais says counsellors have been made available to students and their families.

"This is a day to start healing," he said in an email to parents.

The survivors of the Sandy Hook massacre stayed at home, and are expected to return to classes later this week in a spare school near Newtown.

The building that they will move into - the unused Chalk Hill School in the nearby town of Monroe - already shows signs of preparation.

On a fence opposite the building, a green sign with white lettering proclaims: "Welcome Sandy Hook Elementary!"

Many of the students and faculty of Sandy Hook and its neighbours still have funerals to attend.

The first two victims, Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both aged six, were buried on Monday, with the boys' bodies laid out in white coffins.

On Tuesday, funerals were being held for a young girl and boy, and wakes for another boy and girl, as well as one of the teachers shot dead.

ABC/Reuters