WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden vowed urgent action against gun violence in America on Wednesday, pledging steps by the Obama administration that he said could ‘‘take thousands of people out of harm’s way’’ and improve the safety of millions more.
But a day ahead of a meeting with the National Rifle Association, which has sunk past gun control efforts and is opposing any new ones, Biden signaled that the administration is mindful of political realities that could imperil sweeping gun control legislation, and is willing to settle for something less. He said the administration is considering its own executive action as well as measures by Congress, but he did not offer specifics.
‘‘I want to make it clear that we are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing,’’ Biden told an array of gun control advocates, crime victims, and others at the White House. ‘‘It’s critically important we act.’’
Shortly after last month’s slaughter of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., President Obama tasked Biden with heading a commission to come up with recommendations on gun policy by the end of this month. Obama supports steps including reinstating a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and closing loopholes that allow many gun buyers to avoid background checks.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says that some 40 percent of gun sales are made without background checks, such as at gun shows and over the Internet.
The tragedy in Newtown, in which 20 young children and seven adults were gunned down by a man with a military-style semiautomatic rifle, has prodded the administration to act. Obama had remained largely silent on gun control after the 2011 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded 12 others, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and the Colorado movie theater shooting that left a dozen people dead and many more wounded last July.
Biden, referring to the Newtown shootings, said at the White House: ‘‘Every once in a while, there’s something that awakens the conscience of the country, and that tragic event did it in a way like nothing I’ve seen in my career.’ The president and I are determined to take action. . . . We can affect the well being of millions of Americans and take thousands of people out of harm’s way if we act responsibly.’’
Biden said that the administration is weighing executive action in addition to recommending legislation by Congress. Recommendations to the Biden group include making gun-trafficking a felony, and ordering federal agencies to send data to the National Gun Background Check Database.
Labor secretary resigns to seek post in California
WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary Hilda Solis resigned Wednesday, saying she plans to return to her native California. She is expected to run for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
In a message to colleagues, Solis said she made the decision to leave after discussing it with family and close friends.
One of the highest-ranking Hispanics in Obama’s administration, Solis has won praise from labor unions for aggressive enforcement of wage and hour laws and job safety regulations. But business groups have criticized her as not taking a more cooperative approach.
‘‘Leaving the department is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, because I have taken our mission to heart,’’ Solis said. ‘‘As the daughter of parents who worked in factories, paid their union dues, and achieved their goal of a middle-class life, and as the first Latina to head a major federal agency, it has been an incredible honor to serve.’’
President Obama called Solis ‘‘a tireless champion for working families.’’
‘‘Over the last four years, Secretary Solis has been a critical member of my economic team as we have worked to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and strengthen the economy for the middle class,’’ Obama said in a statement.
Solis said she is proud that 1.7 million people have completed federally funded job-training programs under her tenure. Her agency oversaw the spending of about $67 billion for unemployment insurance benefits, job training and other job placement and worker protection programs under Obama’s economic stimulus package.
Separately, the White House said that Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki would remain in their posts.