Washington: President Barack Obama is "determined to take action" on gun violence, his vice president said on Wednesday as a high-profile round of White House meetings began in search of new policies after last month's Connecticut school shooting.
Vice President Joe Biden told reporters that the shooting of 20 children, ages 6 and 7, with a legally purchased, high-powered rifle weighed down the nation's conscience "in a way like nothing I've seen in my career."
While Biden was meeting with victims groups and gun safety organizations ahead of this month's deadline to send proposals to Congress, a contentious debate was emerging on just what gun safety should be.
Obama hopes to announce his administration's next steps to tackle gun violence shortly after he is sworn in for a second term on 21 January. Meanwhile, a coalition of conservative and gun-rights groups is organizing a "Gun Appreciation Day" to coincide with the weekend of his inauguration, calling on people to visit gun stores, gun ranges and gun shows with US flags and "Hands off my gun" signs.
Also Wednesday, the governor of New York, the state with some of the country's strictest gun laws, was proposing bans on all assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The outspoken Republican governor of neighboring New Jersey, Chris Christie, said policymakers also must address the mental health system, improve access to drug treatment and look at the impact of violent video games.
Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in the head two years ago in a mass attack, is forming a political action committee to counter the existing gun lobby while reaching out to gun owners like herself. And states are exploring ideas ranging from instant background checks for people buying ammunition to one Utah town's proposal to have every household armed.
Biden's meetings this week include one on Thursday with the country's most powerful gun lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, which insisted after the Connecticut shooting that the answer to gun violence was arming more "good guys" and putting an armed security officer in every school.
Obama wants Biden to give him policy proposals by the end of the month. "He is mindful of the need to act," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
But as the shock and sorrow begin to fade over the Connecticut attack that left 20 students ages 6 and 7 shot dead, some gun rights advocates, including the NRA, are already fighting tighter gun restrictions, conservative groups are launching pro-gun initiatives and the Senate's top Republican has warned it could be spring before Congress begins considering any gun legislation.
"The biggest problem we have at the moment is spending and debt," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week, pointing to looming debates over the country's borrowing limit and massive deficit.
Obama wants Congress to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that allow gun buyers to avoid background checks and restrict high-capacity magazines. Other recommendations to the Biden group include making gun-trafficking a felony, getting the Justice Department to prosecute people caught lying on gun background-check forms and ordering federal agencies to send data to the National Gun Background Check Database.
Giffords, the former congresswoman, is taking a prominent role in the gun debate. She and husband Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, wrote in an opinion piece for USA Today on Tuesday that their new Americans for Responsible Solutions initiative would help raise money to support greater gun control efforts "to balance the influence of the gun lobby."
They pointed out that they support the constitutional right to bear arms, but they wrote, "When it comes to protecting our communities from gun violence, we're not even trying — and for the worst of reasons."