President Barack Obama pledged his administration will draft “concrete proposals” by the end of next month to help stem gun violence in the U.S. and endorsed restrictions on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
“This time, the words need to lead to action,” Obama said at the White House, where he announced that he’s putting Vice President Joe Biden in charge of developing a response to the mass shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults. “The fact that this problem is complex, can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing.”
Obama said there is a growing consensus in the country for restricting military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and urged Congress to hold votes on such measures early next year. He said that the administration’s review will include firearms regulation as well as mental health and cultural issues.
The president’s new focus on gun violence in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting highlighted the pressure the White House is under to quickly craft a response to the tragedy. The event has prompted calls for stricter gun control from Democratic lawmakers and gun-control advocates, as representatives of firearms owners argued that limiting weapons won’t provide a solution to violence.
Obama, who didn’t push legislation in response to three prior mass shootings over the past four years, bridled at a question about why he didn’t expend political capital on the issue during his first term in office.
“ All of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington,” he said. “This should be a wake-up call for all of us.”
After days of silence since the shooting, 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 an assault-weapons ban.
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.
Some members of Congress said they planned hearings or legislation, including a renewal of a ban passed in 1994 on certain military-style assault weapons.
The gunman in the school shooting, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle with 30-round magazines as his main weapon.
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.”
In an effort to appeal to gun owners, Obama said he believes that the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to own firearms and that most gun owners abide by the law.
“I’m also betting that the majority, the vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law- breaking few from buying a weapon of war,” he said.
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 gun policy.
Obama also gave his team the task of studying ways to improve mental health services and address cultural influences that glorify violence. The administration will include input from the Departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, as well as advocacy groups and lawmakers, in the process.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a gun control advocate, said Obama shouldn’t wait to take action until after Biden completes his review.
Obama should use his executive powers including making a recess appointment to fill the vacancy atop the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, ordering all federal agencies to send data to the national gun background check database, and directing the Justice Department to step up prosecution of gun traffickers, Bloomberg said.
“There should be no delay in taking these steps,” said Bloomberg, an independent, who said he spoke with Biden before the president’s announcement and was “very encouraged.”
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California announced her own task force, to be led by Representative Mike Thompson of California.
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