President Barack Obama Wednesday turned to Vice President Joe Biden to lead a new commission tasked with determining what steps the nation should take in the wake of a mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Obama, speaking to reporters at the White House, said that Biden, as one of the authors of a 1994 bill that banned the sale of assault weapons - a ban that has since expired - was uniquely qualified to seek a response to a tragedy that claimed the life of 20 children and six educators.
"We may never know all the reasons this tragedy happened," Obama said. "We do know that every day since, more Americans have died of gun violence."
He added, "We know such violence has terrible consequences for our society and 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 he was encouraged that in the wake of the shooting the national conversation in response has seen some people changing long-held positions, but he stressed that this time the conversation must lead to action.
"We know this is a complex issue that stirs deeply held passions and political divides," Obama said. "There is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence in our society."
He added, "But the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing."
Obama said that he has tasked Biden and other members of his cabinet who will serve on the commission to put forward a set of proposals no later than January, "proposals I then intend to push without delay."
"This is not some Washington commission," Obama said. "This is a team that has a very specific task: to pull together real reforms right now."
Obama said it is encouraging that there is a growing consensus in the nation to ban the sale of military-style assault rifles and high capacity ammunition clips as well as closing a loophole that allows firearms to be sold at gun shows without conducting a background check.
"I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these measures next year in a timely manner," Obama said.
Obama also stressed that he believes in the Constitution's Second Amendment's right to bear arms and recognizes the long tradition of gun ownership in the country while also emphasizing that the vast majority of gun owners are safe and responsible.
"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 keep an irresponsible law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war," he said.
The measures proposed by the White House will go beyond simply trying to prevent or deter mass shootings like the one in Connecticut, Obama said, noting that gun violence takes many more lives in less-publicized incidents - incidents that he said the country can no longer dismiss as routine.
"I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," he said. "We won't prevent them all, but that can't be an excuse not to try. It won't be easy, but that can't be an excuse not to try."
He added, "It will take commitment and compromise, and most of all, it will take courage. But if those of us who were sent here to serve the public trust can summon even one tiny iota of the courage those teachers, that principle, summoned in Newtown on Friday … then I'm convinced that we can [find] a sensible, intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer and stronger place for our children to learn and to grow."
by RTT Staff Writer
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