This afternoon, President Barack Obama confirmed that Vice President Joe Biden will lead a panel to combat gun violence in the aftermath of Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn, and he is calling for proposals to be handed to him by January.
“The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” Obama said at the White House. “The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence.”
The Biden-led working group will produce “concrete proposals” by January that Obama said he “intend[s] to push without delay” and will include them in his State of the Union Address. Biden joined Obama at the announcement but did not speak.
“There’s already a growing consensus for us to build from,” Obama said. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of American support laws requires background checks before all gun purchases.” The new Congress, he said, should vote on all these measures and prioritize confirming a new leader for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Reminded by ABC’s Jake Tapper that Newtown wasn’t the first mass shooting to take place during his presidency, he asked Obama, “Where have you been?”
“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 said sternly. “I think all of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington.”
Obama’s announcement — in the White House briefing room, named for James Brady, a Reagan press secretary who was wounded by a gunshot in an assassination attempt — was the third time in five days that he addressed the massacre that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“This should be a wake-up call for all of us” that there’s more to be done to keep the country safe.
“If we work harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one in Newtown, or any of the lesser known tragedies that visit small towns and big cities all across America every day,” he said, listing several fatal shootings that have happened since Friday. “Each one of these Americans was a victim of the everyday gun violence that takes the lives of more than 10,000 Americans every year, violence that we cannot accept as routine.”
But as Obama pledged to take action to combat violence, he toed a narrow line, reaffirming his belief that the Second Amendment “guarantees an individual a right to bear arms” and that the country has “a strong tradition of gun ownership.”
Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will work on the effort, a White House official said. Outside groups will be consulted, but the official would not specify which groups will be involved.
Reaction from gun-control advocates to the president’s announcement was positive.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he spoke to Biden earlier Wednesday and offered “my full support for his efforts.”