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Obama tries to undercut NRA in gun control debate

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    Feb. 4, 2013: President Obama gestures as he speaks about his anti-gun violence proposals at the Minneapolis Police Department's Special Operations Center in Minneapolis. (AP)

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    Jan. 29, 2013: President Obama speaks in Las Vegas. (AP)

President Obama on Monday tried to undercut National Rifle Association leaders and appeal directly to their membership, claiming gun owners support the "common-sense" gun control measures he's proposed -- and urging those supporters to "keep the pressure" on Congress. 

The president spoke in Minnesota, in his first campaign-style stop as part of a second-term push for new firearms laws. 

On the other side of that debate, the NRA has aggressively argued against Democrats' call for a new and stronger assault-weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazines and universal background checks. But in a risky move, the president used his speech Monday to try and sideline America's most powerful gun lobby. 

"The overwhelming majority of gun owners think (universal background checks are) a good idea," Obama said, referring to recent polling that shows most gun owners support background checks at gun shows and for private sales. "So if we've got lobbyists in Washington claiming to speak for gun owners saying something different, we need to go to the source and reach out to people directly. 

"We can't allow those filters to get in the way of common sense," Obama said. 

He urged the public to call Congress and voice support for the proposals. 

The NRA is unlikely to be drowned out. The group has vocally come out against universal background checks, saying that while they've supported such a system in the past, the overall process is too flawed. The group claims a universal background check system will put gun buyers through needless hassle, with little in the way of results. 

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told "Fox News Sunday" his group has tried unsuccessfully for such a check for two decades. 

"I've been in this fight for 20 years. We proposed it. I don't think it's going to happen," said LaPierre, who argued the mental health lobby and federal laws have prevented the names of people with potentially dangerous mental health problems from being put into a federal database. 

He also said that "criminals won't comply." 

LaPierre was skeptical about whether the Obama administration would take the gun-control legislation, if passed, a step further. 

"I think what they'll do is they'll turn this universal (background) check on the law-abiding into a universal registry on law-abiding people," he said. 

Without once mentioning the NRA by name, Obama on Monday said gun control supporters should tell their members of Congress that "there's no legislation to eliminate all guns." 

Despite opposition not only from the NRA but a number of Republican lawmakers, Obama tried to claim Monday that a "consensus" is forming around the kinds of gun control measures he's pushing in Washington, in the wake of the tragic Newtown, Conn., shooting. 

"No law or set of laws can keep our children completely safe, but if there's even one thing we can do, if there's just one life we can save, we've got an obligation to try," he said. 

The president unveiled his sweeping package of proposals for curbing gun violence last month. He vowed to use the full weight of his office to fight for the proposals, many of which face tough opposition. 

The reinstatement of an assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, is expected to be the steepest climb for Obama. Universal background checks for gun purchasers may have an easier time passing Congress, though the NRA also opposes that measure. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, said Obama remained committed to the assault weapons ban and that it was too early to write off prospects for any parts of the package. 

"We all recognize that all the components of this are difficult and face challenges, some perhaps even more than others," Carney said. "But the president's support is firm and clear." 

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has said he hopes his panel can write gun legislation this month, though it's unclear what it will contain. 

Obama is expected to make more trips around the country to build support for his anti-gun violence measures. The outside group Organizing For Action, an offshoot of Obama's presidential campaign, is also promoting the proposals. 

White House officials say quick action on the president's gun measures gives them the best prospects for passing legislation in Congress. They fear that as time passes lawmakers will have less incentive to back the measures as the shock of the Newtown massacre fades. 

In addition to the gun control measures, Obama's anti-violence proposals also included increasing mental health resources, boosting funding for school security, and lifting restrictions that prevent the government from studying the causes of gun violence. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.