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Obama Pushes for Universal Background Checks

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Duncan echoed the president’s message Monday, saying it is time for Congress to act to reduce gun violence across the country.

Obama also urged the Senate to confirm a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for the first time in six years. Obama has nominated Minnesota U.S. Attorney Todd Jones for the post. He also wants Congress provide resources for states to keep more police officers on the beat and to improve access to mental health treatment.

Separately Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined a group of college presidents to urge Congress to pass gun violence legislation swiftly.

“This is a movement whose time has come,” Duncan said. “If we refuse to act now, I don’t know if we will ever act. Sometimes the time picks you, sometimes you pick the time.”

Duncan, who grew up in Chicago’s notoriously violent South Side, recalled several childhood friends who died from gun violence. As chief of the Chicago Public School system, Duncan said the city buried a child dead from gun violence every two weeks.

Duncan said that in a phone conversation with Obama on Sunday evening, the president affirmed his commitment to press Congress to act quickly, saying he would do “whatever we can do to make this happen.”

But Duncan emphasized the importance of grass-roots efforts in moving any gun violence legislation through Congress.

“Let me be very, very clear,” Duncan said. “Like many things, if this is Washington trying to drive it by itself, this thing doesn’t go very far.”

Since the December elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., 350 college presidents have launched the College Presidents for Gun Safety coalition, demanding that lawmakers and policymakers take concrete steps to prevent gun violence.

In an open letter to Congress, the group called for ending the gun show loophole, reinstating the ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and establishing consumer safety standards for all guns. It also stated its opposition to legislation that some states have passed allowing guns on campuses.

Lauren Smith contributed to this report.

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