by Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- The debate over gun control is intensifying as President Obama's task force on curbing gun violence has begun its work and the country's most powerful pro-gun organization is set to weigh in Friday for the first time since the Newtown school shooting.
The president also spoke in a video released Friday morning in which he said his administration had received an outpouring of support for stricter gun laws, telling respondents to an online petition, "We hear you."
He said he has been encouraged that many gun owners have said there are steps the nation can take to prevent more deadly shootings, "steps that both protect our rights and protect our kids."
"I will do everything in my power as president to advance these efforts because if there's even one thing we can do as a country to protect our children, we have a responsibility to try," Obama said.
The president also said he was holding a moment of silence on Friday morning marking one week since the Newtown, Conn., massacre.
On Thursday, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a prominent GOP lawmaker who previously opposed an assault-weapons ban, said he may be changing his mind on the issue.
The senator's shift marks a crack in the long-standing Republican wall of opposition to tightening gun laws. Portman voted against the assault weapons ban in 1994 when he was in the House, but he said last week's shooting, which left 20 children dead, has prompted him to reconsider his stance. Obama backs a renewal of the ban, which Congress first passed in 1994 but which lapsed in 2004.
"I don't regret my vote because I made it based on the facts at hand, which was that this would not have an impact on crime," Portman said. He also thinks lawmakers should weigh outlawing high-capacity ammunition clips and allowing armed guards in schools. Also:
- The National Rifle Association begins a PR blitz today when it holds what it is billing as a major news conference, and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre conducts his post-Newtown interview Sunday on Meet the Press.
- For the first time since Obama took office, more Americans are prioritizing gun control over Second Amendment rights to own guns by 49% to 42%, according to a Pew Research Center poll published Thursday.
- Vice President Biden picked the brains of law enforcement officers Thursday, the first meeting of a White House team charged with delivering Obama a specific set of proposals on curbing gun violence.
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