OPINION: Barack Obama has done what no other US president has done by taking the powerful gun lobby head on.
It has taken the massacre at Sandy Hook for him to act. The president was visibly upset at the time and 33 days later he was equally as passionate when announcing the new measures.
Mr Obama yesterday outlined four major legislative proposals aimed at curbing what he called "the epidemic of gun violence in this country": Universal background checks for all gun buyers, a crackdown on gun trafficking, a ban on military-style assault weapons and a ban on ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets. He also signed 23 executive actions that include steps to strengthen the existing background-check system, promote research on gun violence and provide training in "active shooter situations".
The president is gambling on the fact that public opinion has changed after a string of mass shootings. That may be so, but does he have the power to take on the National Rifle Association and drive new laws through Congress?
Within hours of Mr Obama's announcement, Republicans, who had previously said they were open to a discussion about gun violence, condemned his agenda as violating the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. He also faces challenges from his fellow Democrats.
In its official response, the NRA adopted a more muted tone than it has in recent weeks, saying it would work with Congress "on a bipartisan basis" to develop solutions that secure the nation's schools and fix broken mental health systems. The statement did not specifically address Mr Obama's proposals, which include a $US150 million school-safety initiative to help communities hire 1000 new school resource officers.
But at a huge annual gun show in Las Vegas, the NRA said its opposition to Obama's plans was "the fight of the century". You can bet it will be.
We are lucky in New Zealand that a firearms licence that includes police checks and completing a safety test is required for gun owners. Registration is required for some firearms, including handguns, automatic weapons, and military-style semi-automatic rifles. The latter category was added after the country's worst mass shooting in which loner David Gray killed 13 people in Aramoana in 1990.
Neither our rules, nor any system, will stop dangerous people getting guns, but tighter controls over weapons that can kill so many, so quickly, is a no-brainer.
Mr Obama has vowed to put everything he's got into changing the laws. He faces many hurdles - not just a hostile Congress, but a gun industry that is worth $US30 billion a year. The astonishing fact is that even if assault weapons were banned, there are 114 million handguns in the United States.
Only time will tell as to whether he succeeds, but all power to him for tackling such a critical issue. It will take years of commitment and the support of the American people to make his wishes come true.
- The Nelson Mail