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Obama wants gun violence proposals within a month

Vice President Joe Biden to head an inter-agency effort

US President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaks to members of the media at the White House Briefing Room in Washington yesterday. Photo: Reuters

US President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaks to members of the media at the White House Briefing Room in Washington yesterday. Photo: Reuters

President Barack Obama yesterday set up a task force to frame “concrete proposals” on ending mass shootings by next month and called for new laws on gun control.

With trauma still raw after the Connecticut school massacre last week, Obama put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of an inter-agency effort on gun control and mental health, saying America had a “deep obligation” to act.

Obama, who failed to put political muscle behind greater gun control after previous mass slaughters, dismissed the notion that the task force would simply be a familiar, toothless Washington policy commission with little impact.

And he said killings of 20 children aged six and seven and six teachers and caregivers in the elementary school in Newtown were so horrific they should provide lawmakers with a potent incentive for action, even when the initial shock fades.

“I would hope that our memories aren’t so short that what we saw in Newtown isn’t lingering with us, that we don’t remain passionate about it only a month later,” Obama said at the White House.

“This is a team that has a very specific task to pull together real reforms right now. I will be putting forward very specific proposals. I will be talking about them in my State of the Union, and we will be working with interested members of Congress to try to get something done.”

Obama urged the slow-moving Congress to hold timely votes on banning military-style assault weapons like the one used by gunman Adam Lanza in Newtown and also on outlawing the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips.

He also called for new laws to ensure background checks for all gun purchases and signalled an effort to expand mental health care, in an effort to deter psychologically troubled people from turning to mass violence.

“We’re going to need to make access to mental health at least as easy as access to a gun. We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that, all too often, glorifies guns and violence.”

Biden has a history of framing crime legislation from his years in the Senate, has an affinity with law enforcement services, and also enjoys the kind of cordial links with many top Republicans in Congress that Obama lacks.

Obama, who many conservatives believe wants to take away their guns, also said he supported the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which enshrines the right to bear arms in the US.

“There is a big chunk of space between what, you know, the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all,” he said.

Obama also called on the National Rifle Association, the most powerful gun lobby group which piles pressure on lawmakers over gun rights, to consider its priorities, before senior figures hold a news conference on Friday.

“The NRA is an organisation that has members who are mothers and fathers, and I would expect that they’ve been impacted by this as well, and hopefully they’ll do some self-reflection.”

The aftermath of the horrific shootings in Connecticut has prompted some pro-gun figures on Capitol Hill to admit that more needs to be done to regulate the sale and use of firearms.

But most evidence of shifting positions has been among Democrats, and there are signs that Republicans, especially those from rural, southern and conservative states may balk at new legislative action.

In another development yesterday, Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller announced a Bill that would require a National Academy of Sciences assessment of links between violent games and violence.

Lanza was reportedly a fan of violent videogames including “Dynasty Warriors.”

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