Even without Congress, Barack Obama could act to restrict guns

Barack Obama

Unburdened by re-election worries and empowered by law to act without Congress, US President Barack Obama could take action to improve background checks on gun buyers, ban certain gun imports and bolster oversight of dealers.

Prospects for gun control legislation intensified in the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, as more pro-gun rights lawmakers said on Monday they were open to the possibility while Obama and three cabinet members met at the White House to discuss the subject.

Having just won a second four-year term, Obama does not need to fear alienating voters who favor gun rights and he could press ahead without lawmakers on fronts where federal law enables executive action.

Speaking in Newtown, where a gunman on Friday killed 20 children and six adults in an elementary school, Obama vowed late on Sunday to "use whatever power this office holds" to try to prevent such massacres.

"Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine," Obama said at Newtown High School.

His administration has the power to issue executive orders or new rules, options that Obama is likely to consider in combination with possible new laws.

The National Rifle Association, the largest US gun rights group with 4 million supporters, relies largely on its ability to influence lawmakers in order to block legislation.

Obama's appointees at the US Justice Department have been studying ideas since the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting of US Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and 18 others at a public meeting. Giffords survived but six people died.

Christopher Schroeder, who ran the Justice Department's review, said it looked at possible legislation to send to Congress as well as action the administration could take itself.

"You always look at both, because if you can do it administratively it's certainly a less involved process," said Schroeder, who has since returned to a professorship at Duke Law School.

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