President uses weekly address to call for consideration of 'common sense' measures excluded from gun control bill

President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Congress to vote over a ban on controversial military-style assault weapons and restrictions on ammunition, despite widespread predictions that such a vote would fail.

Ever since the Newtown school massacre at the end of last year, Obama has been pushing to introduce fresh gun control laws, arguing that a rash of mass shootings last year has left the American public demanding action. But the effort has faced a withering backlash from gun owners' groups, like the powerful National Rifle Association, and their political allies in both parties.

Last week, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, introduced gun legislation that did not include the so-called assault weapons ban, nor another proposal backed by the Obama administration that would place limits on magazine capacities. Reid admitted that he dropped those elements because any bill with them in would get fewer than 40 votes – far below the threshold needed to defeat a filibuster or pass the Senate.

Yet Obama, in his weekly radio address, insisted that a vote on the fuller version of the bill was needed. "These ideas shouldn't be controversial – they're common sense. They're supported by a majority of the American people. And I urge the Senate and the House to give each of them a vote," the president said.

Such a move – though likely to be defeated in a vote – would at least force politicians into actually coming out against the new gun control law: a political risk and potential public relations disaster that many might be nervous about.

Obama said that in the three months since Newtown, public opinion had shifted in the country to back the sort of measures that previously would have been unpopular. "As a nation, the last three months have changed us. They've forced us to answer some difficult questions about what we can do – what we must do – to prevent the kinds of massacres we've seen," he said.

That might not be as true as Obama would like to believe. In the face of a concerted campaign by the NRA and anti-gun law politicians, public opinion in favour of major controls has actually been dropping. Just after the Newtown massacre – which left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook elementary school – some 52% of Americans were found to be in favour of major restrictions on guns. But that number has since dropped to 43%, according to a CNN/ORC poll released earlier this week.

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[Image via Agence France-Presse]