WASHINGTON: US 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 yesterday, Obama will outline a process for pursuing policy changes following the school shooting, though he is not expected to call for specific measures.
The panel will explore possible new gun legislation to rein in the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, but will also look at mental health policies and violence in popular culture.
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, Connecticut. 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.
On Tuesday Obama backed a new bid to revive an assault weapons ban and other new gun laws, as traumatized US politicians wrestled with the aftermath of the worst in a series of mass shootings over the last two years.
The White House sees some urgency in formulating a policy response to the shooting, which 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, Colorado, 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.
The massacre shocked the country, and may have shifted the political debate on firearms in US society after years of gun lobby ascendancy.