Barack Obama: 'Shame on us' if Congress forgets Newtown

Barack Obama

Expanding federal background checks to private sales at gun shows and online is the gun-control effort's centerpiece and was the focus of Obama's remarks. The system, designed to block criminals and the mentally disturbed from getting firearms, currently applies only to transactions by licensed gun dealers.

The National Rifle Association opposes the expansion, citing a threat that it could bring federal registries of gun owners, which would be illegal. The NRA says what is needed is better enforcement of the existing system, which it says criminals too easily circumvent.

Democratic sponsors are sure to need 60 votes to prevail - a daunting hurdle since the party has just 53 of the Senate's 100 seats, plus two Democratic-leaning independents. In a sign of potential trouble ahead, six Democrats backed a failed GOP proposal last week that would have required 60 votes for all future bills restricting guns.

"The week after Newtown, we thought it would be a tough road to 60 votes but we'd get there," said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that Bloomberg helps lead. "Three months after Newtown, it looks like a tough slog but we'll get there."

Exactly how they can achieve that has yet to be demonstrated, with Obama's turn Thursday as arm-twister-in-chief underscoring the political pressure that proponents feel is needed 104 days after the Newtown killings.

"Now's the time to turn that heartbreak into something real," said Obama. While not naming the NRA, he chided opponents for trying to "make all our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration, or their assumption is that people will just forget about it."

NRA officials are unyielding in their opposition, with spokesman Andrew Arulanandam saying, "We have a politically savvy and a loyal voting bloc, and the politicians know that."

Obama and his backers find themselves in an unusual position - struggling to line up votes for a proposal that polls show the public overwhelmingly supports.

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