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Move to ban assault weapons gains momentum as Obama voices support

The White House appears to be moving towards backing the reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons after President Barack Obama told members of his cabinet to come forward with concrete steps to reduce public access to guns.

The task of coordinating the proposals – which among other things could include resurrecting an embargo which was in place for 10 years before it expired in 2004 – will go to Vice-President Joe Biden.

Mr Obama's spokesman Jay Carney said the president was "actively supportive" of plans to examine an assault weapon ban.

As the backlash against America's lax gun laws continued to grow after the Newtown Elementary School tragedy, Wal-Mart announced that it was suspending the sale of models of the AR-15 Bushmaster rifle similar to the one police say Adam Lanza used last Friday. The decision – which followed the move by another national chain, Dick's Sporting Goods, to suspend sales of all hunting rifles – compounded the sense that patience with years of inertia on gun control may have snapped. One of the country's largest asset management firms, Cerberus Capital, said it would sell its stake in Freedom Group, the maker of the Bushmaster rifle.

Political momentum after the Newtown tragedy, which saw 28 people killed including 20 children aged five and six, is also coming from several moderate Democrats in the US Senate who, in spite of having strong ties to the gun lobby, have stepped forward this week to voice their support for a review of the laws. These include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, inset, and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a longtime supporter of the National Rifle Association (NRA) which is dedicated to preserving the right to bear arms as enshrined in the Second Amendment.

"We all ought to feel guilty," senior Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman said on the Senate floor yesterday. "We have failed to fulfil what seemed to be our most natural law, if you will, or responsibility, which is to protect the safety and lives our children."

Asking its readers to petition for an assault weapons ban, the New York Daily News yelled "Blood on Your Hands" on its front page over a picture of Congress. There will be no real debate in Congress until next year and even then many members will be assessing what kind of political risk will come with taking on the NRA, which has remained silent since Friday. So far there have been no Republicans among those senators speaking out.

Mr Obama, meanwhile, will have to weigh to which of many issues on his plate he wants to give priority, including immigration and tax reform and climate change.

Of all the images made public since the horror of the Sandy Hook shootings, few convey the scale of the slaughter more poignantly than this class photo. Taken just a few months before Adam Lanza began a rampage that only ended when he took his own life, it shows 14 six- and seven-year-olds who died, plus victim Emilie Parker, inset, who missed this class photo.

The unidentified child in the black top is the only one in the picture to have survived.

Rachel D'Avino, a therapist killed at Sandy Hook, would have received a marriage proposal on Christmas Eve, a friend has said. Her boyfriend had asked her parents for permission to marry her.