WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday announced an interagency task force led by Vice President Joe Biden to quickly draft gun-control proposals that would be acted upon “without delay,” as soon as January.
The president joins congressional Democrats, state legislators, and gun control advocates seeking to transform grief over the Connecticut school shootings into a national campaign to enact tougher gun laws, which could include a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” Obama said. “It won’t be easy, but that can’t be an excuse not to try.”
The president acknowledged the “deeply held passions and political divides” as he urged Congress to take up any proposals “in a timely manner.”
“Ultimately if this effort is to succeed it’s going to require the help of the American people,” the president said.
“If we’re going to change things, it’s going to take a wave of Americans — mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and, yes, gun owners standing up and saying ‘enough’ on behalf of our kids.”
In Missouri, a Democratic lawmaker called for requiring criminal background checks for gun purchases at gun shows, which is not a requirement in many states. In California, which has among the country’s most restrictive gun laws, lawmakers would extend background checks to anyone who wants to buy bullets.
Meanwhile, five more funerals took place in Newtown on Wednesday, further stoking the raw emotions over gun violence.
US Representative James Himes, a Democrat whose Connecticut district abuts Newtown, spoke with emotion and anger as he joined 27 other Democrats in urging House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, to schedule a vote by Friday on a proposal that would limit the number of rounds that can be loaded into a gun clip. The measure has about 150 backers, all Democrats.
Himes recited the names of the five victims who were to be laid to rest Wednesday: Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Chase Kowalski, 7; Caroline Previdi, 6; and teacher Victoria Soto, 27.
Questions remain as to why Adam Lanza killed his mother and then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School with her firearms and gunned down 26 people before taking his own life.
“But over time,” Himes said, “the urgency of that question has got to transform itself in the minds of every single American and certainly in the minds of every single elected official to do all that we can to prevent what happened in Newtown from ever happening again. That’s something we cannot escape as a responsibility.”
Boehner made no public comments on gun control Wednesday. His attention was on heading off the country’s fiscal crisis.
Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman, said the focus should remain on the Sandy Hook victims. “When the vice president’s group makes specific proposals, we will take a look,” he said.
While Republicans have joined in grieving the shooting victims, the party has been mostly silent on the gun control debate.
New York Representative Thomas Reed, a Republican and NRA member who went hunting just last week, said the emotions were still too raw. In time, he said, a “robust debate” will take place, but he urged that the discussion include access to mental health services.
“If all we’re going to be talking about is gun control — well, it needs to be more than that,” said Reed.
The National Rifle Association, which has been a powerful force in thwarting gun control measures, announced Tuesday that it would make “meaningful contributions” to the matter, but details await a press conference scheduled for Friday.
Gun control advocates hope to seize on evolving public sentiment over guns. A CBS News poll released Tuesday showed strong public support for stricter gun rules, with 57 percent of Americans saying gun laws should be strengthened — a surge of 18 points since the spring.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the country’s leading advocates for gun control, launched a petition as part of its “We Are Better Than This” campaign for bipartisan measures to address gun violence.
On Wednesday, the group called the president’s overtures “a tremendous step forward.”
“We are hopeful that the task force being led by Vice President Biden will produce real results,” said Dan Gross, the group’s president.
The movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colo., in July and last year’s deadly gunfire in Arizona that nearly took the life of former US representative Gabrielle Giffords galvanized the country but failed to spur major action on guns.
“This time it’s different . . . and we all know it,” said New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a longtime gun-control advocate and coauthor of the bill favored by Himes that imposes a 10-round cap on ammunition clips.
Banning high-capacity magazines may not deter gun violence, she said, but it could help limit the carnage by giving people additional seconds to flee as a gunman is forced to reload.
On the House floor Wednesday, Representative Niki Tsongas of Lowell spoke of the “inconsolable loss” in neighboring Connecticut.
We must act to make real changes that will provide real protection for America’s families,” Tsongas said.