Obama sets January deadline for gun proposals

President Barack Obama stands with Vice President Joe Biden as he makes a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room about policies he will pursue following the Newtown, Ct., school shootings, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama stands with Vice President Joe Biden as he makes a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room about policies he will pursue following the Newtown, Ct., school shootings, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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WASHINGTON — Spurred by a horrific elementary school shooting, President Barack Obama tasked his administration Wednesday with creating concrete proposals to reduce the gun violence that has plagued the country.

"This time, the words need to lead to action," said Obama, who set a January deadline for the recommendations. He tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading the effort and vowed to push for implementation of the policy proposals without delay.

The president, who exerted little political capital on gun control despite a series of mass shootings in his first term, bristled at suggestions that he had been silent on the issue during his first four years in office. But he acknowledged that the Friday's deadly shooting had been "a wake-up call for all of us."

Twenty children and six adults were killed when a man carrying a military-style rifle stormed Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Friday morning.

The president also called on Congress Wednesday to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and to pass legislation that would close the gun show "loophole," which allows people to purchase firearms from private dealers without a background check. Obama also said he wanted Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity ammunition clips.

"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."

The president's announcement Wednesday underscores the urgency the White House sees in formulating a response to the Newtown shooting. 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 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.

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."

"I am 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," Obama said.

Obama also tasked the Biden-led team with considering ways to improve mental health resources and address ways to create a culture that doesn't promote violence. The departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, along with outside groups and lawmakers, will all be part of the process.

Biden's prominent role in the process could be an asset for the White House in getting gun legislation through Congress. The vice president spent decades in the Senate and has been called on by Obama before to use his long-standing relationships with lawmakers to build support for White House measures.

The president challenged the National Rifle Association, the country's most powerful gun lobby and key backer of many Republican politicians, to join the broader effort to reduce gun violence as well.

"Hopefully they'll do some self-reflection," Obama said of the NRA.

The NRA made its first comments since the shooting on Tuesday, promising to offer "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

Obama said that while taking the necessary steps to reduce gun violence would take commitment and compromise, he said it could be achieved if Washington summons "even one tiny iota of the courage of those teachers, that principal in Newtown summoned on Friday."

EARLIER:

Obama to press for gun policy changes after Conn. shooting

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is launching an administration-wide effort to curb gun violence, underscoring the growing political consensus over tightening gun restrictions following the horrific massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.

Obama is tasking Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate, with spearheading the effort. In remarks from the White House on Wednesday, Obama will outline a process for pursuing policy changes following the school shooting, though he is not expected to call for specific measures.

The president has vowed to use "whatever power this office holds" to safeguard the nation's children after Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six adults were killed at the school by a gunman carrying an arsenal of ammunition and a high-powered, military-style rifle.

The White House sees some urgency in formulating a policy response to the shooting, even as Obama and his top aides are consumed with averting the "fiscal cliff" before tax hikes and spending cuts take effect in January. The incident has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there is some fear that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown shooting eases.

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.

The White House has begun to signal that Obama may be more proactive on gun issues following the murders of the elementary school youngsters, ages 6 and 7.

Carney said Obama was "actively supportive" of legislation to reinstate a ban on assault-style weapons that expired in 2004. The president long has supported a ban, but exerted little effort to get it passed during his first term. Obama also would support closing a gun show loophole allowing people to buy arms from private dealers without background checks and would be interested in legislation limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines, Carney said.

The policy process Obama was announcing Wednesday was expected to include input from the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. The heads of those agencies met with Obama at the White House on Monday. .

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