WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will take his case for new gun control measures directly to the American people this week while proposing new executive actions in a final big effort to reduce gun violence during his last year in office.
Obama meets with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to discuss his administration's options for tightening gun rules without going through the Republican-controlled Congress, which does not support the wide-ranging legislative changes that the Democratic president prefers.
Although the White House has not spelled out his plans specifically, they are expected to include measures that would require more gun sellers to become licensed dealers and conduct background checks on buyers.
Guns are a potent issue in U.S. politics. The right to bear arms is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and the National Rifle Association, the top U.S. gun rights group, is feared and respected in Washington for its ability to mobilize gun owners. Congress has not approved major gun-control legislation since the 1990s.
Republicans have roundly criticized the president's plans, calling them an overreach of his executive authority.
"This president wants to act as if he's a king, as if he's a dictator," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, said on “Fox News Sunday.” "This is going to be another illegal executive action, which I'm sure will be rejected by the courts."
Obama will take part in a one-hour town hall-style question-and-answer session on gun control broadcast on CNN at 8 p.m. EST on Thursday, the White House said.
The event, moderated by anchor Anderson Cooper, will give Obama a chance to respond to criticism and raise public support for the measures before his State of the Union address on Jan. 12.
Obama launched a push to tighten U.S. gun laws after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting massacre in 2012. But the push stalled in Congress. Last month's fatal shootings in San Bernardino, California, by a couple who authorities suspect were inspired by Islamic State, gave further impetus to the White House to try again through executive actions.
"It would be better for our security if it was harder for terrorists to purchase very powerful weapons," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Saturday in Hawaii, where Obama was concluding a two-week vacation. The president returned to Washington on Sunday.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner who has said she would take executive action on guns if elected in the Nov. 8, 2016, election, praised Obama's anticipated move.
"I applaud the president for taking a hard look at that and I believe he will take some actions to require more gun sellers to do background checks," Clinton said during a stop in New Hampshire, according to her campaign.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month showed 65 percent of respondents saying it was important that gun control be addressed in the United States, while 29.4 percent said it was unimportant.
The Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the White House, has called on Obama to target high-volume sellers of guns who are not licensed, using criteria such as the number of firearms sold and whether a seller advertises or rents tables at gun shows to determine who should be forced to obtain a license.
“There are many, many guns that are changing hands without a background check,” said Chelsea Parsons, vice president of guns and crime policy at the group. Obama would be well within his executive authority to have the government to widen the number of sellers who are required to be licensed, she said.
Republicans zeroed in on Obama's attempt to go around Congress as a questionable way to advance his goals.
"His first impulse is always to take rights away from law-abiding citizens, and it's wrong," said Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on "Fox News Sunday." "And to use executive powers he doesn't have is a pattern that is quite dangerous."
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Peter Cooney