Obama outlines effort to stem gun violence 'epidemic'

4:19 PM, Dec 19, 2012   |    comments
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by David Jackson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON -- President Obama appointed Vice President Biden on Wednesday to lead an effort aimed at finding ways "to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day."

Speaking five days after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Obama said, "We won't prevent (all such tragedies), but that can't be an excuse not to try."

Biden's task involves not only potential new gun laws, but also mental health issues and "a culture that -- all too often -- glorifies guns and violence," Obama said.

The vice president will consult with Cabinet members and outside groups before delivering "a set of concrete proposals no later than January," Obama said, "proposals that I then intend to push without delay.

"This is not some Washington commission ... where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside," he said. "This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now."

Obama said he picked Biden because of his experience in the Senate, including authorship of the 1994 crime bill that included an assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004.

The president endorsed new congressional efforts to revive the ban on "military-style" assault weapons, as well as new restrictions on high-volume ammunition clips.

Members of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups have questioned the effectiveness of gun control and said some proposals infringe on Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.

Obama said he, too, believes in the Second Amendment, but is confident many supporters will back common-sense legislation in light of what happened in Newtown. He said he is betting that "the vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war."

As for the politically powerful NRA, Obama said its members are "mothers and fathers" also affected by the tragedy."There is a big space between what the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all," he said.

In recent days, the president has met with Biden and Cabinet members about how to move forward, including considering the possibility of new gun-control laws.

The effort comes as Democratic members of Congress stepped up their push for gun regulations after the mass killing. in Newtown. Lawmakers have also called for more mental health funding and for addressing the impact of violent video games and films on young minds.

At a memorial service Sunday in Newtown, Obama said: "In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine."

In addition to Biden, Obama has spoken in recent days with Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Copyright 2012 USA TODAY

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