WASHINGTON -- Declaring the time for action overdue, President Barack Obama promised Wednesday to send Congress broad proposals in January for tightening gun laws and curbing violence after last week's schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut.

Even before those proposals are drafted, Obama pressed lawmakers to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that allow gun buyers to skirt background checks and restrict high-capacity ammunition clips.

"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Obama said in his most detailed comments on guns since Friday's killing of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn.

"The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence."

Gun control measures have faced fierce resistance in Congress for years, but that may be changing now because of last week's violence. Obama has signaled for the first time in his presidency that he's willing to spend political capital on the issue and some prominent gun-rights advocates on Capitol Hill -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- have expressed willingness to consider new measures.

"This time, it is different, and we all know it," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), a leading gun control advocate. "People are fed up with the gun lobby."

Still, given the long history of opposition to tighter gun laws, there is no certainty the legislation Obama backed yesterday or the proposals he will send to Congress next month will become law.

Obama tasked Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate, with overseeing the administration-wide process to create those proposals. Beyond firearms' restrictions, officials will also look for ways to increase mental health resources and consider steps to keep society from glamorizing guns and violence.

Obama's January deadline underscores the desire among White House officials to respond swiftly to the Newtown shooting. Obama aides worry that as the shock of the shooting fades, so, too, will the prospects for legislation.

"I would hope that our memories aren't so short that what we saw in Newtown isn't lingering with us, that we don't remain passionate about it only a month later," said Obama.

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Pressed by a reporter to explain his own inaction during his first term, Obama got testy, listing other issues he had to tackle over the last four years.

"Here's where I've been . . . I've been president of the United States dealing with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars. I don't think I've been on vacation," he said. "I think all of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who backs an assault weapons ban, said Obama could have taken up the cause sooner.

"He could have done this anytime in the last four years," King said, including the first two years when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

Gun legislation is still "going to be hard to get through Congress," King added. He noted the failure of a bill he introduced to prevent anyone on the terrorist watch list from purchasing a firearm, and said, "The fact is, that there's been virtually no gun regulation in the past 18 years."

With Laura Figueroa