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Obama calls for agreement on gun reforms

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama waded into the politically treacherous gun control debate on Sunday, calling for reform of rules to prevent attacks like the one that wounded an Arizona congresswoman two months ago.

Obama, in an opinion piece published in the Arizona Daily Star, said some 2,000 people had perished from gun violence in the short time since a gunman in Tucson killed six people and shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head.

"Every single day, America is robbed of more futures. It has awful consequences for our society. And as a society, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to put a stop to it," he wrote.

Obama said he believed the U.S. Constitution's second amendment guaranteed a citizen's right to bear arms.

Sensitive to accusations that he favors broad limitations on gun use, Obama emphasized that his administration had expanded gun owners' rights, allowing them to carry guns in national parks and wildlife refuges, for example.

Gun control is a divisive issue in U.S. politics that some voters use as a litmus test to determine their support for political candidates. Democrats are traditionally viewed as favoring stricter limitations while Republicans are viewed as supporting policies friendlier to gun owners.

Obama, a Democrat, said it was time to move beyond that divide. "I believe that if common sense prevails, we can get beyond wedge issues and stale political debates to find a sensible, intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place," he wrote.

"I'm willing to bet that responsible, law-abiding gun owners agree that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few -- dangerous criminals and fugitives, for example -- from getting their hands on a gun."

SOUND STEPS

Obama's comments could be aimed at shaping an inevitable discussion on guns in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Potential Republican candidates are vying for their party's presidential nomination and the issue of guns -- as in previous years -- is likely to feature among the list of topics debated in that hard-fought contest.

Obama called for "sound and effective" steps to prevent lawbreakers from obtaining guns. A system of criminal background checks must be better implemented and made more efficient, he said.

"We should provide an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to (gun) sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can't escape it," he wrote.

Obama said he hoped the Tucson shootings could spark a national discussion on preventing gun violence.

"Most gun-control advocates know that most gun owners are responsible citizens. Most gun owners know that the word 'commonsense' isn't a code word for 'confiscation,'" he wrote.

Jared Loughner, 22, has been charged with the January 8 shootings. He pleaded not guilty to an expanded 49-count indictment in federal court in Tucson on Wednesday.

Obama referred to the shooter without naming him.

"A man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun," Obama wrote.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

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