Biden: Obama prepared to take executive action to help stem gun violence

Biden: Obama prepared to take executive action to help stem gun violence

President Obama will likely take executive action in an effort to tamp down the recent rash of gun violence, Vice President Biden said Wednesday.

“The president is going go act,” said Biden, who is conducting meetings all week on gun control. “There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken. We haven't decided what that is yet, but we're compiling it all.”

He said last month's Newtown, Conn., tragedy — which took the lives of 20 elementary school children — “touched the heart of the American people so profoundly” and “requires immediate, urgent action.”

It is unclear what specific executive orders Obama is contemplating, though one Democratic aide with insight into the talks said Obama could sidestep Congress and bolster federally funded mental-health programs.

Biden sat beside Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderBiden under pressure to pick new breed of federal prosecutors Obama says Senate will vote again on voting rights Obama: Voting rights bill must pass before next election MORE as he met at the White House with gun-control leaders, including the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, along with victims of gun violence, including survivors of the Virginia Tech University shooting and the stepfather of a victim in last summer's Aurora, Colo., shooting.

Participants in the meeting said while Biden underscored the fundamental respect of the Second Amendment, the consensus at the table focused on assault weapons and high capacity magazines along with background checks.

“I want to make clear that we're not going to get caught up in the notion that, unless we can do everything, we're going to do nothing,” Biden said. “It's critically important we act.”

He added that there is “pretty wide consensus on three or four or five things in the gun safety area that could and should be done.”

Biden is expected to report his task force's findings on gun violence to Obama by month's end.

Before then, he'll meet with groups such as Walmart to discuss the issue. Next week, he will address the winter meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors. On Thursday, Biden will hold a meeting with National Rifle Association officials. 

But Biden would not get into the details of what he'll discuss with the group. “They'll be able to tell you that,” he said.

The vice president said he was “heartened” by the response the White House has received, such as those from mental health groups, doctors and nurses, and religious groups.

Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign said background checks on gun buyers are a key subject because 40 percent of gun sales occur without them.

He said he's been impressed by the scope of the administration's task force on gun violence so far.

"Everything we've seen from this task force underscored everything that the president has been saying," Gross said.

Gross insisted the debate doesn't mean taking guns away from law-abiding citizens.

"This is not a debate on the second amendment," he said, adding that administration officials are committed to "staking out a middle ground" on the gun issue, expressing a willingness to use executive action where that's appropriate, as well.

Gross said Biden and other administration officials he's met with have "made it clear that they're in this for the long haul."

Although not a part of Wednesday's meeting with Biden, gun reformers on Capitol Hill dropped some hints about other steps the White House is eying to rein in gun violence. 

They suggested there will be a push to repeal the Tiahrt amendment, an eight-year-old law, named after former GOP Rep. Todd Tiahrt (Kansas), that places sharp restrictions on the powers of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to share crime-gun trace data with local law enforcers.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a vocal gun-reform advocate who's been critical of even his own leadership for what he considers a failure to confront the gun-violence issue, said the unthinkable nature of the Newtown massacre has changed the game on Capitol Hill – if only slightly.

"The difference is that Americans see these mass shootings as part of a larger epidemic of gun violence and not merely isolated incidents anymore," Quigley said Wednesday in an email. "I have doubts about Congress’ willingness to act, but this shift in perspective and the president’s task force has the potential to at least start a discussion we have refused to have in the past."

This story was posted at 1:03 p.m. and updated at 4:20 p.m.

Mike Lillis contributed to this story.