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President Obama may seek assault rifle ban

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday began the first serious push of his administration to attempt to reduce gun violence, directing Cabinet members to formulate a set of proposals that could include reinstating a ban on assault rifles.

The effort will be led by Vice President Joe Biden, according to two people outside the government who have spoken to senior administration officials since Friday, when a gunman killed his mother and rampaged through Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 children, six adults, and himself.

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The tentative steps ended a paralyzing debate within the administration over how hard to pursue gun control legislation, which has been a politically perilous issue for many Democrats.

There were signs Monday, however, that such fear was abating on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Democratic Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Virginia’s Mark Warner, made clear that Congress should consider a range of options to address the issue; all three have been strong supporters of gun rights. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said she would introduce legislation that would reimpose the assault-rifle ban that lapsed in 2004.

‘‘We need to accept the reality that we’re not doing enough to protect our citizens,’’ Reid, the Senate majority leader, said after a moment of silence on the Senate floor. ‘‘In the coming days and weeks, we’ll engage in a meaningful conversation and proper debate about how to change laws and culture that allow this violence to continue to grow. . . . And every idea should be on the table.’’

But any significant gun legislation would require support from leading Republicans, none of whom joined Democrats on Monday in outlining specific changes they might consider.

The rising anxiety in Washington over how to respond to the Sandy Hook massacre came as a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found a shift in the way most Americans view such tragedies and the reasons behind them.

More than half of respondents to the poll, conducted over the weekend, said the shooting in Connecticut reflected societal problems rather than the isolated action of a troubled individual.

Fewer than a quarter said the same thing after the July shooting in a Aurora, Colo., movie theater, where a gunman killed 12 people and injured dozens of others.

Obama, who has appeared shaken by the Sandy Hook shootings, met Monday with Biden, who advocated for stricter gun control measures during his years in the Senate.

The president also spoke Monday with Arne Duncan, education secretary, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, ‘‘to begin looking at ways the country can respond to the tragedy in Newtown,’’ according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Earlier in Obama’s tenure, some key advisers, including then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, saw gun control as an issue that would be a distraction as the president pursued health care legislation, new Wall Street regulations, and measures to improve the economy. As a House leader in 2006, Emanuel recruited pro-gun Democrats to run in conservative districts.

On Monday, White House officials said it is too early to say what measures Obama will pursue. But in the past he has supported the reinstatement of the 1994 assault weapons ban, and White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that he still does.

At the memorial service Sunday evening, Obama said he intends to speak to law enforcement officials, mental health specialists, educators and others ‘‘in the coming weeks’’ to come up with proposals to reduce gun violence.

The National Rifle Association, the country’s most powerful progun-rights lobby, has been silent since the Newtown shooting. A spokesman for the group declined to comment Monday.

As Congress convened for the first time since the shooting, a number of prominent pro-gun Democrats expressed new willingness to consider gun-control measures, including restrictions on assault weapons.

Manchin said the massacre has made clear the need to consider new regulations.

‘‘I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle,’’ he said on MSNBC’s ‘‘Morning Joe.’’ ‘‘I don’t know anyone that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting.’’

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