By Mark Felsenthal
MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama pressed Congress on Monday to at least hold a vote on banning assault weapons, the most contentious part of his plan to curb gun violence in the United States.
Obama's comments suggested a realization in the White House that it will be difficult to get such a ban passed by lawmakers, despite consistent public support for the measure.
Opposition is high in Congress, including among some Democrats, and by calling simply for a vote, Obama seemed to acknowledge that even getting that far - let alone having an assault weapons ban approved - would be a struggle.
"We should restore the ban on military style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines. And that deserves a vote in Congress, because weapons of war have no place on our streets," Obama said as uniformed law enforcement officers stood behind him at the Minneapolis Police Department's Special Operation Center.
It was Obama's first trip outside Washington to promote gun control since he announced a package that includes calls for universal background checks and 10-round limits on ammunition magazines.
"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," Obama said.
With a busy agenda that includes immigration reform and climate change, Obama hopes to move quickly on gun control before memories fade of December's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six adults.
A vote in Congress on the assault weapons ban might be held separately from other gun control measures.
Senator Dianne Feinstein has said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid promised that even if the ban is left out of a broader package to curb gun violence, she will have the opportunity to offer it as an amendment on the Senate floor.
Gun control efforts face an uphill battle against a powerful pro-gun lobby and a strong U.S. tradition of hunting and gun ownership. The right to bear arms is guaranteed to Americans in the U.S. Constitution.
Obama noted that support was widespread for universal background checks before guns are sold and indicated that he would press especially hard for that part of his proposals.
"The vast majority of Americans - including a majority of gun owners - support requiring criminal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun," he said.
"So right now, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are working on a bill that would ban anyone from selling a gun to somebody legally prohibited from owning one. That's common sense. There's no reason we can't get that done."
Obama urged legislators to name a permanent director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a post that has been vacant for years.
Minnesota is emblematic of the challenges Obama will face in advancing gun control in Congress.
While the state's two Democratic U.S. senators have said they are sympathetic to measures to curb gun violence, the National Rifle Association, the largest U.S. gun-rights group, is influential in the state.
It has backed all four Republicans and two of the Democrats who represent Minnesota in the House of Representatives, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
But Minneapolis has a tradition of gun control. The city took steps in the mid-2000s to reduce incidents involving guns and juveniles after an outbreak of violent crimes.
On the way to Monday's event, Obama's motorcade passed a man holding a sign that read, "Ban private ownership of military weapons."
The Newtown massacre mobilized support for measures to contain access to certain guns and ammunition.
The Obama administration has included access to mental health and an examination of the effects of violent video games as part of its efforts to stem gun violence.
Gun-control efforts have foundered in the past despite strong public support, in part because many gun owners believe advocates of gun control oppose owning and using firearms in general.
(Writing Jeff Mason; editing by Alistair Bell and Christopher Wilson)