President Barack Obama is assigning Vice President Joe Biden to lead his efforts to find ways to curb gun violence after the deadly shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
Obama, in a statement planned for 11:45 a.m. Washington time, will outline the administration’s review of potential responses as Democratic lawmakers, gun-control advocates and representatives of firearms owners react to the murder of 20 children and 6 adults by a gunman wielding a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a high-capacity ammunition clip.
After days of silence, the National Rifle Association publicly pledged yesterday to “offer meaningful contributions” to avoid a repeat of the Dec. 14 tragedy. Even so, it signaled to members that it will resist the return of a 1994 assault- weapons ban.
NRA News Update host Ginny Simone began a webcast aired on the group’s media site yesterday by saying that “as the nation continues to mourn the loss of the 26 innocent victims” of the shooting, the Obama administration is weighing measures that would curb gun violence.
“Measures that would likely include the assault-weapons ban because word from the White House is that the ban remains a commitment of the president,” Simone said, characterizing it as “a ban we all know was a failed experiment from the start.”
The dual messages are reminders of the difficultly lawmakers likely will face as they try to impose new restrictions on gun ownership and equipment.
Some Republican supporters of gun rights also have agreed to discuss new restrictions, including how to make sure that any legislation against assault weapons addresses those that can fire multiple rounds with one trigger pull, not rifles or other guns.
“Having this discussion is a very important part of the process that we must go through as Americans,” Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia said on MSNBC. “I‘ve also said you cannot leave out the mental health situation of this.’’
As the NRA girds for a legislative confrontation that it has avoided for more than a decade, its allies on Capitol Hill and elsewhere began broadening the discussion to include the issues of mental health and violent movies.
That’s a message expected to be echoed when the NRA unveils its proposals. In a webcast aired on the group’s site on Dec. 17, National Review columnist John Fund called what happened in Newtown ‘‘a mental health issue as much as anything.”
Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said yesterday that the administration intends to take a broad approach to finding answers to the Newtown tragedy.
“There’s no one answer to this problem,” Carney told reporters. The president intends to “engage with lawmakers, with members of his administration, with mental health professionals, with law enforcement officials, with parents, communities, to try to find answers.”
Biden, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took part in a White House meeting Dec. 17 to discuss policy options, according to the official.
Biden advocated for stricter gun control restrictions during his years in the U.S. Senate before becoming vice president. The new task force would be the Obama administration’s first major effort on guns policy.
Some members of Congress said they planned hearings or legislation, including a renewal of a 1994 ban on certain military-style assault weapons.
Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband Dennis was among six Long Island Railroad commuters killed by a gunman in 1993, said the deaths at the school have changed the terms of the debate since the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire in 2004.
“This time it is different, and we all know it,” she said at a news conference today at the Capitol. “People are fed up with the gun lobby.”
Carney yesterday reiterated Obama’s support for renewing the ban, which expired in 2004, and for legislation requiring purchasers at gun shows to undergo background checks.
Carney also said the president would look at efforts to restrict high-capacity magazines that can accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The Fairfax, Virginia-based NRA, which claims 4 million members and spent $12 million in an unsuccessful attempt to deny Obama a second term, said in its statement that the group was “shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown.”
“I know the people who work there, and I know they’re horrified,” Richard Feldman, a former political director for the NRA. “This is almost an existential moment for the gun community. It’s the worst-case scenario.”
Feldman said the association, which spent more than $2.2 million on lobbying in the first nine months of this year, will be “aggressive” in resisting the effort by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, to reinstate the federal assault-weapons ban. The ban expired in 2004.
The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle with 30-round magazines as his main weapon, Connecticut State Police Lieutenant Paul Vance said at a Dec. 16 news conference.
Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, is sponsoring legislation to ban such magazines.
“High-capacity magazines are used by soldiers fighting wars; they do not belong on our streets and in our communities,” Lautenberg said in a letter to other senators.
Gun-rights advocates, including those who have said that some new restrictions should be considered in the aftermath of the tragedy, began pressing that case to focus beyond the weapons carried by the gunman to other causes that contributed to his crime.
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has an “A” rating from the NRA, said he raised the entertainment industry and the issue of mental health in a meeting yesterday with Obama.
“I know my friends at the NRA and those who support our Second Amendment rights will participate because I know that their hearts are aching for the families in Newtown, just like all Americans,” Manchin said in a statement afterward.
“To have a productive dialogue, we also need to address a number of critical issues, including our mental health system, safety in our schools and a media and entertainment culture that glorifies unspeakable violence,” he said.
Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association and an “endowment” member of the NRA, said “the issue should never be about guns, it should always be about whose hands the guns are in.”
Calls for a broader discussion went beyond NRA allies.
Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Commerce Committee, introduced legislation to direct the National Academy of Sciences to investigate the impact of violent video games on children.
“We need to take a comprehensive look at all the ways we can keep our kids safe,” he said in a statement.
Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, yesterday suggested creation of a national commission on violence to examine the role of the entertainment industry in addition to gun laws.
“Very often, these young men have had an almost hypnotic involvement in some form of violence in our entertainment culture, particularly violent video games,” he said. “Then they go out and obtain guns and become not just troubled young men but mass murderers.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Julie Bykowicz in Washington at email@example.com
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