On the heels of one of the most deadly public shootings in the nation's history, Vice President Joe Biden will lead a multi-agency task force to combat gun violence, President Obama said Wednesday.
Biden, a long-time gun control advocate who was once hailed as the "Sheriff" of enforcing strict guidelines on stimulus dollars, will once again play the bad cop, this time to navigate the difficult terrain on tighter laws and 2nd Amendment rights.
President Obama is making good on his vows for "meaningful action" on gun control after a horrific display of gun violence last week left 20 children and another six adults dead in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The president said Biden's project is to set forward "concrete proposals" no later than January.
"This time words need to lead to action," Obama said. “I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”
The president had strong words for his administration's actions on gun violence—even calling assault guns "weapons of war" when they're in the hands of the wrong people. But, in a replay of how the issue of gun-control has been overshadowed by other crises in years past, the White House press corp responded to Obama's announcement by asking questions on the partisan fiscal cliff negotiations.
Shock waves from the Newtown tragedy have given lawmakers the public backing and political will to renew the debate on gun control—an issue previously left largely abandoned in the face of pro-gun influence and power. After going dark on social media for the four days following the tragedy, the National Rifle Association spoke publicly Tuesday, saying the organization was willing to “offer meaningful contributions” to the debate.
The White House on Tuesday also vowed to “actively” support Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s push to reinstate an assault weapons ban on the first day of the next Congress, as more and more formally NRA-friendly lawmakers have offered a willingness to take action against gun violence.
"Using a gun and using common sense aren't bad ideas," Obama said, acknowledging the cultural significance of guns in America while saying that responsible gun owners would agree with them that the wrong people should not have access to "weapons of war."
"We need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun," he added.
In conjunction with the administration's announcement Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said House Democrats are creating their own task force, led by fellow California Democrat Mike Thompson, to combat gun violence.
“I am a gun owner, hunter, former co-chair of the Congressional Sportsman Caucus, supporter of the second Amendment and a combat veteran who carried an assault rifle in Vietnam,” Thompson said in a statement. “Military-type assault weapons and assault magazines have no place on our streets or in our communities.”
The massacre in Newtown marks the fourth prominent mass shooting in Obama's first term and the first time he's pursued gun-control legislation.
"We can't prevent them all, that can't be an excuse not to try," Obama said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been a prominent voice pushing for the president to lead on gun control, said he was encouraged by Obama’s action and offers Biden his full support.
“Vice President Biden has long has been a leader on this issue, having chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee for many years, where he helped lead successful efforts to pass laws establishing the criminal background check system and a ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Now it is time to fulfill the original promise of those two laws.”
Obama's approval ratings are at their highest marks since the assassination of Osama bin Laden. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found the president with 54% approval, down just two points from his highest ranking.