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Obama extends olive branch in gun control debate

But Obama has approached gun issues carefully since his 2008 campaign, when he portrayed himself to swing voters as an ally of the Second Amendment - and he has continued to do so.

This month, when a Mexican reporter asked him at a news conference about whether U.S. gun laws contribute to the flow of weapons into Mexico's drug wars, the president responded: "I believe in the Second Amendment. It does provide for Americans the right to bear arms for their protection, for their safety, for hunting, for a wide range of uses."

Even in Sunday's op-ed, Obama sought credit for signing a law allowing people to carry guns in national parks and wildlife refuges. He hailed the country's "strong tradition of gun ownership that's handed from generation to generation," saying his administration "has not curtailed the rights of gun owners - it has expanded them."

Among those pressuring Obama to act is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has teamed up with other city chiefs to form Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Bloomberg is scheduled to be in Washington on Tuesday to endorse a House bill that, like one being sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), would increase penalties on states with poor records of reporting data to the national criminal background check system and require all gun sellers to perform checks on customers.

Mark Glaze, the group's director, said Obama is realizing "that the burden a background check imposes is almost zero, and the return on investment is exceptionally high."

LaPierre said he favored much of what Obama endorsed in his op-ed, but he charged that the president was targeting gun ownership for political reasons rather than addressing the "underlying issue" of "madmen in the streets." Then, as if seeking to distance himself as much as possible from Obama, LaPierre sent a scathing letter to the president accusing him of paying "mere lip service" to the Second Amendment.

"His base is shrieking for him to do something," La Pierre said.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), signaled Monday that any legislative proposal is not likely to survive. Smith, in a written statement, said Obama's call to improve the background check system "doesn't mean new laws are needed, but rather that the laws already on the books must be fully and effectively enforced."

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