Vice President Joe Biden promised the Obama administration will act quickly to reduce gun violence as he opened the first meeting of a group that’s tackling the issue after the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.
“The president is absolutely committed to keeping his promise that we will act,” Biden said at the meeting, which included law enforcement officials. “We’re going to need your help.”
President Barack Obama put Biden in charge of the task force, which will be reviewing options including reinstating a ban on military-style assault weapons that expired in 2004, closing loopholes that allow gun buyers to escape background checks and limiting use of high-capacity ammunition clips.
Beyond firearms restrictions, Biden’s panel will examine ways to boost mental health programs in schools and steps to alter a culture in the U.S. that glamorizes guns and violence.
Obama gave the group until the end of January to submit recommendations.
The Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, left 20 children and six adults dead. The gunman, who fatally shot his mother before going to the school, committed suicide. His main weapon at the school was a semi-automatic rifle with multiple high-capacity magazines, according to police.
“This time, the words need to lead to action,” Obama said at a White House news conference yesterday. He said “this is not some Washington commission” that publishes a report “that gets read and then pushed aside.”
Joining Biden at the first session were Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
Holder left afterward for Newtown, to meet with law enforcement officials investigating the shooting.
Biden said law enforcement officials will be valuable in developing a strategy and getting any changes to the law pushed through Congress.
“For anything to get done, we’re going to need your advocacy,” Biden said.
Obama promised to make abating gun violence a priority in his second-term agenda, and he said he wants recommendations for legislative action and executive orders. The topic will be part of his State of the Union address in late January.
About 85 Americans are fatally shot daily -- 53 of them suicides, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gun control restrictions have faced resistance in Congress for decades, though conditions may be changing.
The National Rifle Association, a lobbying group for gun owners and manufacturers that has fought restrictions on firearms, has scheduled a news conference for tomorrow. It has pledged to “offer meaningful contributions” to the debate about how to cut gun violence.
Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, said on MSNBC today that a ban on assault weapons or guns with large-capacity magazines might be able to pass the Republican-controlled House.
“I think it is doable,” Hoyer said. “That’s what the American people think is a reasonable step to take.”
Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, said legislative strategy to curb gun violence must focus on the broader issues, such as mental illness and violence in general.
In talks with pro-gun Senate Republicans in recent days, Schumer said, “they stress that over and over again.”
The message, he said, should be: “We’re not going to take away your gun if you’re a law-abiding citizen. The Second Amendment is as important as the First, but you have to admit no amendment is absolute.”