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Invoking Newtown, Obama presses Congress on guns

President Barack Obama on Thursday sternly rebuked opponents of pending gun control measures, accusing them of “running out the clock” and hoping that the nation forgets last year’s Newtown school shooting in order to keep popular reforms from passing into law.

“The entire country was shocked, and the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that that this time would be different," the president said of the gun massacre that killed 20 children and six adults. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”

Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and a group of mothers who have lost their children to gun violence, Obama accused gun rights groups of rooting for amnesia.

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“The reason we’re talking about it here today is because it’s not done until it’s done,” he said. “And there are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock or changing the subject or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all. They’re doing everything they can to make all our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration or their assumption is that people will just forget about it.”

Obama's remarks came on the same day that authorities released new information about Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, including the list of guns and ammunition that he stockpiled for the attack. Lanza fired 154 bullets from a Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15 rifle, the documents said. 

Citing poll numbers that show broad support – as high as 90 percent in some polls -- for universal background checks, the president urged voters to “make yourself unmistakenly heard” to members of Congress in the days before the Senate takes up gun legislation next month.

“I ask every American to find out where your member of Congress stands on these ideas,” he said. “If they’re not part of that 90% who agree that we should make it harder for a criminal or somebody with a severe mental illness to buy a gun, then you should ask them why not.”

The legislation working its way through the Senate has hit numerous snags, with the threat of a filibuster now looming from lawmakers who say the president’s framework would restrict Second Amendment rights.

“The proposals the president is calling for Congress to pass would primarily serve to reduce the constitutionally protected rights of law-abiding citizens while having little or no effect on violent crime,” said Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, one of the Republicans who has pledged to block the legislation. “It is deeply unfortunate that he continues to use the tragedy at Newtown as a backdrop for pushing legislation that would have done nothing to prevent that horrible crime.”

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A federal assault weapons ban has already been dropped from the overall gun package that Senate lawmakers plan to introduce after the Easter recess, although advocates are pushing for a separate vote on the measure. (Obama did not specifically mention the ban in his remarks Thursday, focusing instead on the more politically palatable planks of the effort.) 

And negotiators are still tussling over compromise language to require all gun buyers to complete a background check – a measure that need take significant Republican support to overcome the threat of a filibuster.

In recent weeks, Vice President Joe Biden has been the administration’s public point man on the gun issue, appearing with victims of violence and alongside gun control advocate new York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to appeal for “courage” from Congress.

On a conference call with gun control supporters yesterday, Biden said the coming efforts are “just the beginning” of a public outcry to reduce gun violence.

“I think we’re on the verge of getting a serious, thorough universal background check system in place and it will — emphasize, it will — it will save lives,” Biden said.

Bloomberg has led the money charge, pledging to spend millions of his considerable fortune to pressure wavering lawmakers into supporting gun control proposals.

“If 90 percent of the public want something, and their representatives vote against that, common sense says, they are going to have a price to pay for that,” the New York City mayor said during an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press last weekend