WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) – President Barack Obama pledged Wednesday to use the power of his office to prevent more tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, with the eyes of the world on a town changed forever by a troubled man with guns, President Obama has moved gun control from a backburner issue to front and center in his second term.
“This time, the words need to lead to action,” said Obama, who set a January deadline for the recommendations.
Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate, will lead a team that will include members of Obama’s administration and outside groups. The departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security will all be part of the process.
Proposals are likely to include a renewal of the assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004, a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, and requiring background checks for all gun sales. Right now, only about 60 percent of sales are scrutinized.
“The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” Obama said. “The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce the violence.”
Appealing to gun owners, Obama said he believes in the Second Amendment and the country’s strong tradition of gun ownership. And he said “the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible.”
Obama’s announcement underscores the urgency the White House sees in formulating a response to Friday’s shooting in Newtown where 20 children and six adults were killed by gunman Adam Lanza, 20, who was carrying an arsenal of ammunition and a high-powered, military-style rifle.
The massacre has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms and there is some concern that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown shooting eases.
Obama said Wednesday it was “encouraging” to see people of different backgrounds and political affiliations coming to an understanding that the country has an obligation to prevent such violence.
Many pro-gun lawmakers also have called for a greater focus on mental health issues and the impact of violent entertainment. Obama also prefers a holistic approach, with aides saying stricter gun laws alone are not the answer.
“It’s a complex problem that requires more than one solution,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. “It calls for not only re-examining our gun laws and how well we enforce them, but also for engaging mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, educators, parents and communities to find those solutions.”
Still, much of the immediate focus after the shooting is on gun control, an issue that has been dormant in Washington for years. Obama expended little political capital on gun issues during his first term, despite several mass shootings, including a movie theater attack in Aurora, Colo., in the midst of this year’s presidential campaign.
“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage; that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” Obama said at a memorial Sunday in Newtown.
The director of New Yorkers against Gun Violence said it is about time Washington acted on all three members.
“Frankly, people have gone beyond the point of being so traumatically saddened by what happened in Newtown to being angry and outraged that this is not being done by our Congress,” Jackie Hilly said.
But at a firearms training center in Jersey City, National Rifle Association-certified instructor Lateif Dickerson said criminals ignore existing gun laws anyway, so passing more laws makes little sense.
“I feel horrible about what happened, obviously,” he said. “I believe we should have more security; more armed security in schools. Have security guards in schools. I think that’s the common denominator that’s missing in all these major incidents.”
Many said the missing factor in reducing gun violence is leadership. A pointed question on that subject prompted a testy answer from Obama.
“This was not the first issue, incident of horrific gun violence of your four years. Where have you been?” Obama said. “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.”
Obama wants the effort to move quickly so he can announce a legislative package during the State of the Union in January.
“This should be a wake-up call to all of us,” he said. “If we are not getting right the need to keep our children safe, then nothing else matters.”
Meanwhile, speaking out for the first time since Friday’s mass shooting, the NRA said in a statement Tuesday that it “is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”
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