Conceding "this will be difficult," President Barack Obama urged a reluctant Congress on Wednesday to require background checks for all gun sales and ban both military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in an emotion-laden plea to curb gun violence in America.
The president's sweeping, $500 million plan, coming one month after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., marks the most comprehensive effort to tighten gun laws in nearly two decades. But his proposals, most of which are opposed by the National Rifle Association, face a doubtful future in a divided Congress where Republicans control the House.
Around the Tampa Bay area, opinions at gun shops were skeptical and critical.
"If you can't defend your home and your family, what's wrong with this country?" said Jason Myers, a salesman at Sure Survival, a gun shop in Tampa. "The criminals have more rights than we do."
Seeking to circumvent at least some opposition, Obama signed 23 executive actions on Wednesday, including orders to make more federal data available for background checks and end a freeze on government research on gun violence.
But he acknowledged that the steps he took on his own would have less impact than the broad measures requiring approval from Congress.
"To make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act," Obama said. "And Congress must act soon."
Obama mentioned several constitutional amendments, as well as the defining phrase of the Declaration of Independence, to argue that the right to bear arms guaranteed in the Second Amendment should not compromise other rights.
"We have the right to worship freely and safely — that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin," Obama said. "The right to assemble peacefully — that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado."
Obama added, "That most fundamental set of rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" were "denied to college students at Virginia Tech and high school students at Columbine and elementary school students in Newtown, and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate.
"All the families who never imagined they'd lose a loved one to a bullet, those rights are at stake," he said. "We're responsible."
He noted that 900 more people had been shot to death in the 33 days since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
"While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try," Obama said.
He spoke in a tone that was quiet, but determined. Some in the room of crime victims, activists, lawmakers and law officers held back tears, but a few in the audience cried softly.
In the audience were Chris and Lynn McDonnell, whose 7-year-old daughter, Grace, was among the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.
They had given Obama one of her paintings, which now hangs in his private study.
Obama's announcement set off a fierce debate on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and some Democrats oppose changes that they fear would chip away at the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Leaders of the Democratic-led Senate expect to begin debate in two weeks, though some bills may not even get a vote in the Republican-run House of Representatives.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, released only a brief statement from an aide.
"House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that," spokesman Michael Steel said.
Others expressed blunt opposition.
"President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence," said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. "Rolling back responsible citizens' rights is not the proper response to tragedies committed by criminals and the mentally ill."
Freshman Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, said he would "seek legislation barring funds to enforce the orders. I will seek legislation to cut White House funding should the president issue and enforce such orders. I will support legal efforts to overturn the orders in court."
If all that fails, Stockman said, he would seek to impeach the president.
In a statement Wednesday, the politically powerful National Rifle Association accused the president of "attacking firearms and ignoring children."
Several children who wrote to Obama about gun violence were with him at the ceremony. The president read some of their letters, including one from an 8-year-old girl named Julia: "I beg you to try hard to make guns not allowed. Not just for me, but for the whole United States.''
From the stage, Obama responded: "Julia, I will try very hard.''
Information from the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and the Washington Post was used in this report.