Will Obama have the courage to stand up to the US gun lobby?

New York: The Connecticut school shooting that killed 27 people, including 20 children, horrified President Barack Obama along with the rest of the nation, prompting pro-gun control Americans to again demand stricter gun restrictions.

In his statement Friday during a nationally televised appearance in the White House just hours after one of the worst shooting rampages in US history, President Obama called for "meaningful action."

"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics," Obama said, choking up during his statement. “We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years."

Supporters of gun control gather on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington on Friday. AP

Talk of reining in America’s gun culture is considered politically risky, and Obama avoided making such direct calls during his successful run for re-election this year. However, Friday’s tragedy has led to what is now President Obama's biggest test: Will he have the courage to stand up to the powerful American gun lobby?

Democrat Congressman Jerrold Nadler, immediately challenged President Obama to come up with new gun control legislation. "Yet another unstable person has gotten access to firearms and committed an unspeakable crime against innocent children. We cannot simply accept this as a routine product of modern American life," said Nadler.

The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) has for four decades been the strongest force shaping America’s lenient gun laws. The NRA traditionally leans heavily toward the pro-gun Republican side. The US constitution's Second Amendment, which protects the rights of Americans to keep and bear arms, is defended tooth and nail by the NRA and rich gun manufacturers.

By working on the Republican base, the US gun lobby has been successful in blunting past drives to restrict the sale of high powered weapons. To change the laws, Obama needs to get Congress to act and so far the Republican opposition has blocked all reforms of the federal gun laws, including a return of the ban on assault rifles passed under president Bill Clinton but which expired in 2004 under president George W. Bush.

Democrats themselves have become wary about pressing for gun control after Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee. They are aware that gun control is a lightning-rod issue, and they don't want it to injure them. After Friday’s shooting, the media accused the Democrats of avoiding the gun issue as much as possible, then mouthing platitudes, or promising to pass only the most popular of measures, like the assault-weapons ban.

“Democrats know the numbers: they can’t lose any more white voters than they already have, especially not white voters in union families. And a lot of union households are gun-owning households, too,” the New Yorker pointed out.

Adam Lanza, 20, reportedly used a Glock or a Sig Sauer to gun down his mother, elementary school teacher Nancy Lanza, and then spray bullets into the classroom. In the coming days, as more is learnt about Lanza, and how he obtained handguns, renewed calls for stricter gun control laws may begin to get heard.

Hollywood filmmakers and actors are already using their celebrity to plead for change.

"Too soon to speak out about a gun-crazy nation? No, too late," tweeted Bowling for Columbine director Michael Moore. "At least thirty one school shootings since Columbine."

"The way to honor these dead children is to demand strict gun control, free mental health care, and an end to violence as public policy," added Moore.

The death toll at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut exceeds the death at Columbine High School in 1999, which left 12 students and one teacher dead at the hands of two fellow students, who also took their own lives.

Actress Mia Farrow tweeted that "gun control is no longer debatable — it's not a 'conversation' — It's a moral mandate."

"Parks & Recreation" star Rashida Jones added, "Gun control is our only road to freedom. Freedom from the fear of senselessly losing children. We need laws now."

Friday’s rampage follows the killing of six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in early August. The spike in fatal shootings at US schools and colleges have also put Indian students in the crosshairs.

“Campus shootings are as American as apple pie,” said an Indian student ruefully.

Cho Seung-Hui, 23, killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, in 2007. Mumbai’s own Minal Hiralal Panchal, 26, who was studying architecture, died in the shooting along with another Indian student and Indian professor G.V Loganathan.

“After the Virginia Tech shooting the university set up an emergency alert telephone line. We will get a warning on our cell phones if guns go off on campus,” said Ajay Kapare, member of the 450-member India Students Association, at Texas Tech University.

Updated Date: Dec 15, 2012 20:10 PM

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