Anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks or be subject to criminal prosecutions, Obama said at the White House, joined by gun control activists and the families of gun victims.

He said his administration will hire more people to process background checks to make the system more efficient and add 200 more agents and investigators to ensure the 'smart and effective' enforcement of gun safety laws.

The administration will also invest USD 500 million to expand access to the treatment of mental illness across the country, he said.

Obama's gun-control measures are seen as an attempt to sidestep Congress on an issue that is increasingly partisan.

Obama emphasised that the new measures are 'actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence', calling on Congress to get on board with common sense gun safety measures.

"The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now but they can't hold America hostage," Obama said.

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