The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 12/20/12, 7:00 PM ET

Biden kick-starts taskforce on reducing gun violence

Residents of Newtown, Connecticut, laid to rest six more victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In the nation's capital, Vice President Joe...

After Newtown, a new willingness to support gun control

Updated

The  Obama administration has set a mid-January deadline for its special committee to offer concrete proposals to deter mass shootings like the one in Newtown, CT.  A day after President Obama announced the creation of a taskforce, its leader, Vice President Joe Biden, met with Cabinet members and law enforcement leaders at the White House on Thursday to discuss ways of preventing tragedies like the one that killed 27 people–including Nancy Lanza, the mother of the shooter–last Friday.

“We have to have a comprehensive way in which to respond to the mass murder of  children as we saw in Connecticut.” Biden told the group. “We have to take action, and there are a number of things … we can immediately do. For anything to get done, we’re going to need your advocacy.”

As Newtown went through a fourth day of funerals and laid seven more victims to rest, Biden and his gun violence task force reviewed issues of mental health as well as possible gun control legislation. There is now a growing list of lawmakers who are willing to consider gun control, including Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a conservative Democrat who has an “A” rating from the NRA. Senator Casey told the Philadelphia Inquirer today that he would support reinstating the 1994 assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

“The power of the weapon, the number of bullets that hit each child, that was so, to me, just so chilling, it haunts me. It should haunt every public official,” said Casey. “I just believe that in light of what’s happened, in light of measures we can take to lessen the chances that will happen [again], that these are two steps we can take.”

And yesterday, Senator Scott Brown became the first Republican Senator to support a federal ban on assault weapons, although he was a longtime advocate of leaving the issue up to the states. “What happened in Newtown where those children were subject to that level of violence is beyond my comprehension,” Brown told the Springfield Republican on Wednesday. “As a state legislator in Massachusetts I supported an assault weapons ban, thinking other states would follow suit. But unfortunately, they have not and innocent people are being killed.”

Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman also said he’d be open to considering a ban on assault weapons and Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins came out today in support of banning assault weapons.


The massacre of 26 children and educators became the top news story of 2012, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors. The results followed a rare decision by the AP to re-conduct the voting and update the poll to include the Newtown shooting. According to Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore, the Sandy Hook killings may be a “potential game changer” for gun-control laws; the response to it is unlike any he’s seen in 20 years of studying gun violence. With the gun control debate reignited, former gun-rights advocates have reassessed their platforms and most polls and statistics have become even more sobering.

“A study by the Children’s Defense Fund found that we lose some 2,800 children and teenagers to guns annually,” wrote Nicholas Kristof in a New York Times op-ed. “That’s more than the number of American troops who have died in any year in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. More than twice as many preschoolers die annually from gun violence in America as law enforcement officers are killed in the line of duty.” Meanwhile,  Bloomberg News released data indicating that by 2015, firearm fatalities will likely exceed traffic fatalities for the first time. Their research indicates that over time, higher levels of gun ownership directly explain increased rates of homicide and suicide.

A longtime gun control proponent, Vice President Biden pledged “action” against gun violence. “The President is absolutely committed to keeping his promise that we will act, and we will act in a way that is designed–even if, as he says, we can only save one life, we have to take action.”

After Newtown, a new willingness to support gun control

Updated