Following up his speech consoling the residents of Newtown, CT after the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama took to the White House briefing room Wednesday to announce the creation of a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden, to “come up with a set of concrete proposals no later than January” that will reduce gun violence.
He noted that broad cultural issues and intense divides make any action on the issue difficult. “But the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” the president said.
“This is a team that has a very specific task to pull together real reforms right now,” he said.
Hoping to preempt concerns that his task force was just an attempt to push the issue down the road, he insisted, “This is not some Washington commission.” After noting that Biden wrote the 1994 crime bill, which included an assault weapons ban and led to a drop in violent crime, the president listed the issues where there is consensus for action.
“A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons,” he said. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all.”
A CNN/ORC International poll released Wednesday confirmed that 52 of Americans polled favor major restrictions on guns or making all guns illegal. 62 percent support a ban on semi-automatic assault guns and also high-capacity ammunition clips.
The president also called on Congress to confirm a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which they have not done in six years.
As he constantly has since he began running for office, Obama made it clear that he is with the “majority” who believes the 2nd Amendment grants individuals the right to bear arms.
“This country has a strong tradition of gun ownership that’s been handed down from generation to generation,” he said, noting that most gun owners are responsible.
“But you know what? I am also betting that the majority — 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.”
Tying the massacre in Newtown to the broader issue of gun violence, the president gave a laundry list of deaths by firearm that have occurred since the school shooting.
“Since Friday morning, a police officer was gunned down in Memphis, leaving four children without their mother. Two officers were killed outside a grocery store in Topeka. A woman was shot and killed inside a Las Vegas casino. Three people were shot inside an Alabama hospital. A four-year-old was caught in a drive-by in Missouri and taken off life support just yesterday,” he said.
The president added that “mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and, yes, gun owners” will have to be part of the “wave” who stand up and make the effort succeed.
The questions following the statement were primarily about the fiscal cliff.
When the subject of gun violence came up, it was to ask the president why he thinks he can succeed now.
“We’re not starting from scratch,” he said.
He noted that he will bring the proposals forward in his next State of the Union address.
“What about the NRA?” a reporter asked, referencing the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun organization that has been silent in the wake of the massacre, as usual, but announced that it will make a “meaningful contribution” to the discussion Friday in Newtown.
The president said he was hopeful that they would participate in the effort. “The NRA is an organization that has mothers and fathers.”
His last question came from ABC’s Jake Tapper, who asked where President Obama has been on the issue of gun violence.
The president noted the other crises he faced and added “I wasn’t exactly on vacation.”
However the president could have easily referred Tapper to the previous question about the NRA. The organization devoted itself to defeating the president in 2008 and 2012 while spending millions to push candidates and legislation that only expands gun rights.