Barack Obama hardened up his commitment to imposing restrictions on gun ownership on Tuesday, with the White House promising to support a bill to ban assault weapons of the type used in the Newtown school shootings.
White House spokesman Jay Carneysaid Obama supported reinstating the ban, which was first introduced in 1994 but was allowed to lapse in 2004 by the Bush administration.
The pledge came amid criticism of the president that he has failed to be specific about which gun controls he would support. Even in his speech at the Newtown vigil on Sunday, in which he signalled that the issue would be a priority, he did not mention guns specifically, and on Monday Carney spoke only in broad, vague terms about gun control.
But on Tuesday Carney said Obama will support a bill that the Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein said she will introduce in January to curb the sale of automatic- and semi-automatic weapons. Feinstein was responsible for the original 1994 bill.
Carney went further, saying that Obama was also considering support for the closure of a loophole that allows easy sale at gun shows. Buyers are not subjected to the same background checks and demands for various forms of ID at these shows that they would if buying from a licensed gun store.
In yet another measure, Carney also signalled support for taking action to restrict ammunition clips, reducing the number of bullets to single figures, making mass killings more difficult. Obama is "interested in looking at" this, Carney said.
"He is actively supportive of, for example, Senator Feinstein's stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the assault weapons ban," Carney said.
"He supports and would support legislation that addresses the problem of the so-called gun show loophole, and there are other elements of gun legislation that he could support … high-capacity ammunition clips, for example. That is certainly something he would be interested in looking at," he said.
If Obama had made such promises even last week, he would almost certainly have provoked a major backlash from some gun owners. But the events at Newtown have left the gun lobby relatively subdued.
The number of legislators expressing support for reform continues to grow. Obama spoke on Tuesday to a Democratic senator who had until this week been regarded as one of staunchest members of the gun lobby, Joe Manchin, but who has now come out in favour of reform.
Obama was "is heartened … by what we have all heard from some members of Congress who have been longtime opponents of gun control measures", Carney said.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham on Tuesday echoed Carney, saying that restrictions on the size of clips were worth looking at.
Carney, facing criticism for not being specific on Monday, defended the president, saying that Obama does not view the gun debate as "political theatre". He wanted to chat to various people about what changes might be implemented, Carney said.
Carney ran through the list of cabinet members that Obama had approached on Monday for ideas on trying to prevent, or at least reduce, the number of gun massacres.
In the letter to Congress signed by the families, they wrote:
"We know we are far from alone in our grief. Every day in America, 32 more families lose loved ones to gun murders, most in tragedies that do not make national headlines because they are so common. We believe we are better than this," the letter said.