Spurred by a horrific elementary school shooting, President Barack Obama tasked his administration on Wednesday with creating concrete proposals to reduce the gun violence that has plagued the country.
"This time, the words need to lead to action," said Obama, who set a January deadline for the recommendations. He tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading the effort and vowed to push for implementation of the policy proposals without delay.
The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing.
The president, who exerted little political capital on gun control despite a series of mass shootings in his first term, bristled at suggestions that he had been silent on the issue during his first four years in office. But he acknowledged that Friday's deadly shooting had been "a wake-up call for all of us."
Barack Obama ... "We have a deep obligation." Photo: AP
Twenty children and six adults were killed when a man carrying a military-style rifle stormed Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown on Friday morning.
The president also called on Congress on Wednesday to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and to pass legislation that would close the gun show "loophole," which allows people to purchase firearms from private dealers without a background check. Obama also said he wanted Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity ammunition clips.
Obama said: "We may never know all the reasons why this tragedy happened. We do know that every day since, more Americans have died of gun violence," he told reporters, flanked by Biden at a White House news conference.
Christmas stockings with the names of shooting victims hang from railing near a makeshift memorial in Sandy Hook. Photo: AP
"If there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try," Obama said. The White House has previously said Obama backs a plan to revive a ban on assault weapons.
"We know this is a complex issue that stirs deeply held passions and political divides and, as I said on Sunday night, there's no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Obama said.
President Barack Obama talks about tackling gun violence as Vice President Joe Biden looks on. Photo: AP
The president's announcement on Wednesday underscores the urgency the White House sees in formulating a response to the Newtown shooting. The massacre has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there is some concern that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown shooting eases.
Obama said it was "encouraging" to see people of different backgrounds and political affiliations coming to an understanding that the country has an obligation to prevent such violence.
Appealing to gun owners, Obama said he believes in the Second Amendment and the country's strong tradition of gun ownership. And he said "the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible."
A mourner displays a program for the funeral of slain teacher Victoria Soto. Photo: Getty Images
"I am also betting that the majority, the vast majority, of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war," Obama said.
Obama also tasked the Biden-led team with considering ways to improve mental health resources and address ways to create a culture that doesn't promote violence. The departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, along with outside groups and lawmakers, will all be part of the process.
Biden's prominent role in the process could be an asset for the White House in getting gun legislation through Congress. The vice president spent decades in the Senate and has been called on by Obama before to use his long-standing relationships with lawmakers to build support for White House measures.
The president challenged the National Rifle Association, the country's most powerful gun lobby and key backer of many Republican politicians, to join the broader effort to reduce gun violence as well.
"Hopefully they'll do some self-reflection," Obama said of the NRA.
The NRA made its first comments since the shooting on Tuesday, promising to offer "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
Obama said that while taking the necessary steps to reduce gun violence would take commitment and compromise, he said it could be achieved if Washington summons "even one tiny iota of the courage of those teachers, that principal in Newtown summoned on Friday."