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Obama bringing gun fight back to Connecticut

Nearly four months after standing before the residents of Newtown, Conn., declaring mass shootings like the one that killed 26 of their children and educators "must end," President Obama for the first time since the tragedy will return Monday to the state that inspired perhaps the most sweeping political battle over gun control in decades.

The president will speak on gun-related legislation being wrought over in Congress at the University of Hartford; just shy of an hour's drive from the Newtown elementary school where a gunman opened fire in December, killing 20 first-graders and six adults. Mr. Obama has invited family members of the victims to join him on stage.

It's the second leg of a national "tour" of sorts, on which the president hopes to keep alive the emotion that flared across the country in the wake of the Newtown massacre. But it won't be the first time his administration has invoked faces of the tragedy to try to keep his gun control agenda afloat: Vice President Joe Biden in February addressed a conference on gun violence at a Connecticut university just 10 miles from the site of the shooting; Mr. Obama has twice hosted the victims' families at the White House.

Last week the president stopped in Colorado, a state scarred by devastating shootings at an Aurora movie theater last year and Columbine High School in 1999.  During a speech at the Denver Police Academy, he said there "doesn't have to be a conflict in reconciling" gun control and Second Amendment rights.

"Every day that we wait to do something about it, even more of our fellow citizens are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun," Mr. Obama told the Denver crowd. Since the Newtown shooting, over 2,000 more Americans have died from gun violence.

As he did in Colorado, the president during his speech is expected to laud the new law Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy recently signed, requiring a universal background check on gun purchasers, expanding the state's assault weapons ban, raising the age requirement to buy a rifle and limiting the size of ammunition magazines that can be bought and sold to 10 bullets. Restrictions on magazine numbers and a universal background check are among the tenets of the reform proposal Mr. Obama laid out in January.

Speaking to about 30 donors at a fundraiser in Atherton, Calif., on Thursday, the president qualified that while he's "optimistic" about Congress's ability to usher through immigration reform, "it's going to be tougher to get better gun legislation to reduce gun violence through the Senate and the House that so many of us, I think, want to see - particularly after the tragedy in Newtown." Still, he added, "it can get done if people are activated and involved."

Pillars of the White House's gun control plans have dwindled in the Senate. First Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., removed a new assault weapons ban from the package of gun laws to be debated in the Senate; now it seems that debate on that gun bill won't begin until the week of April 15.

Reid had planned to introduce the package this week. CBS News has learned that the likely delay is due to a number of parliamentary issues, as well as the need for more time to work out a compromise amendment dealing with background checks. Despite support from nine in 10 Americans according to recent polls, the background check item has become an unexpectedly gummy sticking point among Republicans, who have raised concerns that background check records could lead to a federal gun registry.

It's a national trend: In the immediate aftermath of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, popular support for stricter gun laws reached 57 percent in a CBS News/New York Times poll. Since then, backing has waned significantly (47 percent in a CBS News poll last month), raising the question of whether meaningful reform is possible.

On the 100-day anniversary of the tragedy, Mr. Obama reminded the country of its grief, and that it had "pledged we would do something about it.

"There are some powerful voices on the other side who are interested in running out the clock, or changing the subject," he said, adding, "their assumption is that people will just forget about it. ... I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we've forgotten."

Indeed, opposition to gun control has similarly found wings in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, and its lobby is as strong as ever.

At town hall meetings across Oklahoma last week, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., heard an identically worded question from constituents - presumably drafted by a pro-gun group - pressing him on whether he would join Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in filibustering gun legislation, the Wall Street Journal reported. Paul's threatened filibuster crystallized in a letter ensuring any new gun law would face a messy procedural fight, and now bears 13 signatures.

Former Rep. Asa Hutchison, R-Ark., the National Rifle Association-appointed official who last week presented suggestions for national school safety measures, on "Fox News Sunday" accused the president of taking the debate over guns "totally in the wrong direction" by pushing for gun control instead of school safety in the wake of Newtown. He also defended those who oppose universal background checks.

"I think in general concept, Americans - everybody - would like to see effective background checks so that criminals do not have access to firearms," Hutchison said. "But as a practical matter ... if you are a farmer, 30 miles from town and you want to transfer a shotgun to a neighbor, you've got to go 30 miles into town, find the federal licensed firearm dealer, fill out the paperwork, pay the fee, have the background check and then you have a responsibility to keep those records for inspection by the government and that's a huge burden on citizens."

Malloy, appearing Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," argued the NRA simply will not compromise "on anything to do with guns." The pro-gun lobby, he continued, is protecting "the ability of the gun industry to sell as many guns to as many people as possible - even if they're deranged, mentally ill, a criminal background, they don't care. They want to sell guns."

Mr. Obama's speech Monday is the first in a series this week from the administration: Biden on Tuesday will hold a pro-gun control event at the White House with law enforcement representatives; first lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday will return to her hometown of Chicago - which lately has seen a spike in gun-related crime - to speak about gun violence from the perspective of a mother.

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