WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is set to make a fresh plea today for a reluctant Congress to pass new gun control legislation - one of his top domestic policy priorities - as he travels to Connecticut, where December's school massacre took place.
Initial momentum for tougher U.S. gun control laws sought by Obama after the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, has stalled in Congress in the face of fierce lobbying by gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association.
Obama, who speaks at the University of Hartford today, is hoping to build support among lawmakers for several gun control measures, including universal background checks for gun buyers. The Senate is expected to take up gun control legislation as early as this week.
The president has invited 11 parents of children killed in Newtown to fly back to Washington with him aboard Air Force One after his speech. The parents are set to lobby Congress this week for gun control measures, although it may be too late to rescue major legislation sought by Obama.
The president had vowed to use all the powers of his office to reduce gun violence after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults on Dec. 14 at an elementary school in Newtown.
No major gun legislation has passed the U.S. Congress since 1994.
“The policy window is either really close to closed, or closed entirely,” said John Hudak, an expert at the Brookings Institution think tank. “In honesty, this is really a last-ditch effort by the White House,” Hudak added.
Some of Obama's gun control proposals - reinstating a U.S. ban on assault weapons and cracking down on high-capacity ammunition clips - already appear to have little chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate, let alone the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Obama is hoping to salvage the proposal for background checks on all gun buyers to try to ensure that criminals and others prohibited from buying firearms cannot get them. There are not yet enough votes in the Senate for expanded background checks as Democrats seek Republican votes.
White House spokesman Jay Carney held out hope.
“We are working with those on Capitol Hill who are working towards solutions to the legislative priorities the president laid out. Closing the loopholes in our background check system is a major priority,” Carney told reporters.
Obama's speech at the University of Hartford is set for 5:45 p.m. EDT (2145 GMT).
Around a dozen Republican senators led by Rand Paul of Kentucky have threatened to use procedural tactics to try to prevent any votes on the gun measures, a move backed by the 300,000-member Gun Owners of America group.
Last week, Obama gave a speech in Denver trying to rally support for gun control, touting a new state law in Colorado - scene of two of the deadliest gun massacres in American history - as “a model of what's possible.”
The president's speech on Monday will be followed up by a White House event on Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden and law enforcement officials. Biden also is due to speak about gun control on Thursday on the MSNBC cable TV network.
First lady Michelle Obama is set to address gun control during a visit on Wednesday to Chicago, which has faced a spree of gun violence. (Editing by Alistair Bell and Will Dunham)