By Justin Sink, Mike Lillis and Jordy Yager - 12/20/12 01:16 AM EST
President Obama pledged Wednesday that his newly announced working group on gun violence would bring him recommendations on “real reforms” by the end of January.
The group, to be led by Vice President Biden, is tasked with finding solutions to reduce gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting.
“The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” Obama said.
The gun-violence issue has been back under the microscope since Friday, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary and killed 26 people before taking his own life. Twenty of the victims were 6- or 7-year-old schoolchildren; the others were teachers or administrators.
The president stressed that the group would develop a holistic approach to preventing future violence that included an examination of not only gun laws, but mental-health policies and services and the entertainment industry.
“We’re going to need to look closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence,” Obama said, adding that the effort would “begin inside the home and inside our hearts.”
A poll released Wednesday by Gallup found Americans believe increasing the police presence at schools and upping federal spending on mental-health screenings and services are more likely to deter mass shootings than banning the sale of assault weapons.
Of those surveyed, 53 percent say more police would be “very effective” in helping to prevent future shootings, while 47 percent say the same of decreasing the depictions of violence in pop culture. Half those surveyed say increasing mental-health spending would be “very effective,” but only 42 percent say that of banning the sale of assault weapons.
But the selection of Biden to head the commission is a clear indication that much of the group’s focus will center on gun laws. The vice president was a key player in the effort to pass the federal assault-weapons ban in 1994, earning him an “F” grade from the National Rifle Association. In 2008, the NRA deemed him the “most anti-gun vice president in American history,” decrying Biden’s votes to impose a waiting period on handgun sales and to ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
On Capitol Hill, House Democrats escalated their calls for a similar ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.
Behind Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Democrats urged GOP leaders to “take a political risk” and bring the bill to the floor this week — something the Republicans have signaled no intention of doing.
“If anyone could have reached out to that shooter and pulled away the assault magazine that he had … we would have done so. So why wouldn’t we officially take that magazine out of the hands of a shooter?” Pelosi asked at a press briefing in the Capitol.
On Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told House Republicans at a closed-door conference that they needed to “have a discussion on guns.”
In the Senate, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced a pair of bills on Wednesday that would increase security levels at schools throughout the country. One measure would authorize governors to use the National Guard to help local law enforcement with school security. The second bill would expand a Justice Department grant program to give more money to poorer schools for metal detectors, video cameras and telephone tip lines.
But Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) called a narrow focus on gun control “the easy way out.”
“We’ve got to deal with: Should that mother have had weapons in her house if she had a mentally ill person living there?” West said of Nancy Lanza.
“And if she had weapons in the house, should she be told, ‘You have to have them under lock and key’? Maybe that’s what we should be looking at. It’s tailored to the issue.”
West went on to say that legislators needed to consider security at “target-rich environments” like schools, malls and movie theaters, along with the prevalence and glorification of violence in popular culture.
Democrats will have an uphill climb, as the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over gun issues, indicated this week that he has no intention of moving tougher firearm laws.
“We’re going to take a look at what happened there [in Newtown] and what can be done to help avoid it in the future,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told Roll Call Tuesday, “but gun control is not going to be something that I would support.”
Still, on Wednesday, Obama said he was optimistic that the tragic nature of the Newtown massacre would galvanize support for new efforts, saying Biden had been tasked “to identify where we can find some common ground.”
“I have more confidence in the parents, the mothers and fathers that I’ve been meeting over the last several days all across the country from all political persuasions, including a lot of gun owners, who say, you know what, this time we’ve got to do things differently,” Obama said.
Updated at 8:13 p.m.