Thursday, December 20, 2012

White House pushes gun policy effort after Newtown shootings

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden will lead an effort to craft policies to reduce gun violence in a plan President Barack Obama was to lay out Wednesday amid calls for action after the massacre of 26 people, including 20 children, at a Connecticut elementary school.

Obama was not expected to unveil policy decisions but outline how his administration will proceed, White House aides said. The move could signal that he will make the issue a second-term priority and add momentum to a national debate over tighter gun control laws.

Obama has turned to Biden in the past to take a role in high-profile initiatives, including efforts on a deficit-reduction compromise with congressional Republicans in 2011. The vice president will join Obama for the announcement in the White House briefing room at 11:45 a.m. EST.

Biden's mission - to coordinate a strategy among government agencies in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings - comes days after the mass murder that has generated a national outcry for greater efforts to stem gun violence.

U.S. Representative Ron Barber, who was wounded in a 2011 Arizona shooting that targeted his predecessor Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others, welcomed the effort and echoed other Democratic lawmakers' calls to ban military-grade guns.

"I really believe that we can put together a broad coalition to deal with particularly the assault weapons and the heavy firepower that these large capacity magazines contain," Barber told MSNBC on Wednesday.

Friday's massacre was the fourth shooting rampage to claim multiple lives in the United States this year.

The president demanded changes to the way the United States deals with gun violence at a memorial service in Newtown on Sunday. Obama said he would "use whatever power this office" holds to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Gun control has been a low priority for most U.S. politicians due to the widespread popularity of guns in America and the clout of the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun industry lobby.

The constitutional right to bear arms is seen by many Americans as set in stone, and even after mass shootings, politicians have tiptoed around specific steps to limit access to lethal weapons.

Even so, the horror of the Newtown killings, in which a 20-year-old man killed 6- and 7-year-old children and their teachers in their classrooms before taking his own life, has provoked an apparent change of heart in some politicians.


Lawmakers, including pro-gun Democrats and some Republicans, have said they are rethinking their stance on guns after Friday's shooting.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a longtime gun rights advocate, has said he is now open to more regulation of military-style rifles like the one used in Newtown. Obama spoke with him on Tuesday, the White House said.

A few Republicans have also expressed a willingness to revisit the gun control issue, though few have offered specifics.

Some gun-rights advocates have pointed to the school shooting as an example for the need to expand access to guns for some, such as teachers.

The White House spelled out some gun control measures on Tuesday that Obama would support.

Spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would back U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein's effort to reinstate an assault weapons ban. The president also would favor any law to close a loophole related to gun-show sales, he said.

Efforts to limit high-capacity gun ammunition clips would be another option, Carney said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday called on Congress to act immediately to ban high-capacity magazines - attachments that can allow shooters to fire as many as 30 bullets within seconds.

Many on both sides of the issue have also pointed to the need to address mental-health issues, violence in the entertainment industry, and school safety.

Separately on Wednesday, Senator John Rockefeller called for a national study of the impact of violent video games on children, as well as for a review of the ratings system for such games.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom)


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