Gun law lobbyists call for action as Obama heads to Arizona

Barack Obama will fly to Tucson for a memorial service today for the fallen from last Saturday's shooting rampage just as Democrats start a push on Capitol Hill for a reintroduction of at least one element of an anti-gun package that was allowed to lapse in the first George W Bush administration.

Efforts to comfort those traumatised by the attack, which left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded and killed six, including a federal judge, were set to begin here last night with a first mass open to all comers. Tonight's service with Mr Obama will be on the campus of the University of Arizona. Meanwhile, doctors at the university's medical centre reported that Ms Giffords, who was struck by a bullet to the head, had been taken off a respirator and was breathing on her own.

In Washington, Senator Frank Lautenberg and the Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, both Democrats, were moving to table a federal ban on extended gun magazines of the kind that the suspected shooter, Jared Loughner, used on Saturday. His handgun was able to fire 33 bullets between reloads. Such magazines were outlawed under the assault weapons ban introduced by President Clinton, which lapsed in 2004.

Gun law lobbyists were rushing to support the lawmakers, though their proposal stands little chance in a Republican Congress. "In the wake of these kinds of incidents, the trick is to move quickly," said Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Centre. Ms McCarthy lost her husband in a mass shooting on the Long Island railroad in 1993, an event that helped spur the original assault weapons ban.

"The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly," Senator Lautenberg said yesterday. "Before 2004, these ammunition clips were banned, and they must be banned again."

The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, acknowledged deepening alarm among public servants as officials revealed that the number of credible threats made against members of Congress had climbed recently. "Without question, threats against public officials continue to be cause of concern and vigilance," Mr Holder said.

The suspect's parents, Randy and Amy Loughner, broke their silence to apologise to the victims' relatives yesterday via a written statement.

"There are no words that can possibly express how we feel," they said. "We wish that there were, so we could make you feel better. We don't understand why this happened. It may not make any difference, but we wish that we could change the heinous events Saturday. We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so very sorry for their loss."

A neighbour yesterday spoke up for them. "They feel guilty for what happened," Wayne Smith, told a Tucson TV station, adding that Amy has been crying non-stop since Saturday. "They want to know, 'Where did they fail?' I told them they didn't fail. They taught him about right and wrong. We all know you have no control how it works out."

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