December's mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut left 20 children and six teachers dead. It also ignited a national debate about the country's relationship with guns.

"A day like today is a day that so many of us never thought we'd see, it's been very moving. And I think if anything, he's [Obama] just let us know going into his inauguration for his second term that this is something that he's going to take on, and is going to be a priority, and he's not going to back away from until we make our schools safer, until we make our streets safer, until we can do what we can to save the lives of Americans."

- Christian Heyne, from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

On Wednesday, Barack Obama, the US president, unveiled a series of proposals including a ban on assault weapons, high capacity magazines and the introduction of more background checks on gun buyers.

Obama's gun control proposals outline a series of actions to be taken by Congress. These include

  • the introduction of criminal background checks on all gun sales  
  • the renewal of the ban on military assault weapons
  • a ban on high-capacity magazines and armour-piercing ammunition

The president also signed 23 executive orders - some of which make it easier for states to share relevant information.

These require more research into the causes and prevention of gun violence, include the launch of a responsible gun ownership campaign, and require federal authorities to trace the origin of guns recovered in criminal investigations.

But do the proposals to reform US gun laws go far enough and will Obama get them through Congress?

Joining Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, to discuss this is Christian Heyne, from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

And in the second half of the programme, we discuss the conflict in Mali, where French troops have begun engaging in direct ground combat against fighters from Ansar al-Din, a group linked to al-Qaeda, and also fighters from other rebel groups.

"It seems to me that the core of progressive position is protecting vulnerable people, and if you look at what has happened to ordinary Malians, especially in the north, for the past many months, almost a year, so the people in northern Mali have been suffering ... [and] it's only going to get worse if the militants take over Bamako. I think what we have seen for the last year will be child's play in terms of the repercussions both in Mali and in West Africa. So I think in fact we should have had properly planned Western intervention."

- Nii Akutteh, an Africa policy analyst

Although there have been uprisings in Mali since the 1960s, when members of the Tuareg community in the north began an insurgency; the war in Libya helped spark the latest intensification of fighting.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the late Libyan leader, relied on members of the Tuareg as a fighting force, and as the regime disintegrated, many fled to join their long marginalised communities in Mali.  

Before long a new uprising had displaced the Malian army from the north of the country.

The secular Tuareg were joined by Ansar al-Din as well as other Islamic groups. And last year, it was these religious factions that seized control of the north, and proceeded to govern with brutality.

France's intervention follows years of efforts by the US to prevent the spread of al-Qaeda influenced groups.

It is reported that the US has spent up to $600m in the region. Yet for all that money, its allies were powerless to stop the advance of al-Qaeda linked fighters.

In fact, in the south it was the recipients of US aid who took advantage of the northern fighting to overthrow the democratically elected government. And in the north many of the government's US-funded military units joined the rebellion.

The US is providing surveillance and intelligence support to France but says it has not provided any direct military backing.

So as French military action continues in Mali, what role should the US play?

Inside Story Americas discusses with guests: Susana Wing, an expert on Malian politics who teaches at Haverford College; Rudolph Atallah, a former Africa counterterrorism director at the Department of Defense; and Nii Akutteh, an independent Africa Policy Analyst.

Source: Al Jazeera