By Alicia M. Cohn - 12/21/12 12:49 PM EST
A week after 20 children lost their lives during a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, President Obama on Friday personally responded to petitions on the White House site calling for the administration to act on gun control.
"We hear you," Obama said in a video, addressing the more than 400,000 people who have signed petitions related to gun violence since last Friday. "You've started something and now I'm asking you to keep at it. I'm asking for your help to make a real, meaningful difference in the lives of our communities and our country, and make sure the United States of America is a safer, stronger place for our children to learn and to grow."
Gun violence is one of the most popular petition issues since the launch of "We the People," the White House-hosted petition site, according to a White House official. The White House has promised to respond to any petition on the site that gains at least 25,000 signatures. A petition asking Obama to "immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress" is the fastest petition ever to reach the required signature threshold.
Obama's response paraphrases his speech on the topic on Wednesday, when he announced that Vice President Biden would take the lead on a gun violence task force to discuss the best way to prevent another mass shooting like the one in Newtown last week. He affirmed that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms and thanked gun owners for stepping up to encourage for gun safety.
"This week I called on Congress to take up and pass common-sense legislation that has the support of a majority of American people, including banning the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and making sure criminals can't take advantage of legal loopholes to get their hands on a gun," Obama said in the video. "I've asked for these proposals by January, and I will push for them early in the year."
The personal video message is also a sign that the president will use heightened public interest to press the issue if Congress is slow to act. According to polls this week, the majority of Americans — typically just over 50 percent — support stricter gun-control laws, with larger numbers in favor of specific measures such as a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips.
Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown took the lives of 20 children and six adult school employees, and follows several other mass-shooting incidents this year.