President Obama has tasked Vice President Joseph R. Biden with several difficult jobs during their first term, famously dubbing him “Sheriff Joe” in 2009 and charging him with watching over the distribution of $831 billion in economic stimulus money.
Now the folksy moniker has an even more fitting role to go along with it: Mr. Biden is the president’s choice to spearhead the White House’s efforts to curb gun violence after Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama announced the formation of a task force to examine the myriad causes behind gun violence. Mr. Biden will consult Cabinet officials and outside groups and submit proposals to the president by the end of January.
As part of a multistep response to the tragedy in Connecticut, the White House has said Mr. Obama plans to pursue a reinstitution of the federal assault-weapons ban. The president said Wednesday that he tapped Mr. Biden in part because of his role in writing and pushing through Congress the 1994 crime bill that included the assault-weapons ban, which lapsed in 2004.
Even with the nation mourning the deaths of 20 children and six adults, along with those of the gunman and his mother, shepherding new gun restrictions through Congress this year will be no easy feat.
Mr. Biden generally received high marks for ferreting out waste and abuse in the mammoth stimulus program even though the infrastructure spending didn’t live up to its backers’ original claims and the administration has taken a drubbing for the Solyndra loan guarantee and other failed “green energy” programs.
The vice president’s extensive ties to Capitol Hill, forged during 36 years in the Senate, no doubt will come in handy. Mr. Biden also was instrumental in getting the stimulus bill passed, and he was given a similar pressing-the-flesh role in the passage of the health care bill in 2010.
But Mr. Biden may not have the same cross-party appeal when it comes to guns. Throughout his career, Mr. Biden has earned an F from the National Rifle Association, a key pro-gun lobby that Tuesday pledged to contribute “in a meaningful way” to the national discussion over ways to curb gun violence.
At one point during the 2008 campaign, he argued the Republican presidential ticket was misleading voters by warning them that Mr. Obama would start pushing gun-control measures if he won the White House.
But the glib humor belied a long record of fighting for gun control, a goal he often coupled with trying to strengthen domestic crime-fighting forces.
In 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre, Mr. Biden introduced a crime bill that would have renewed the assault-weapons ban and required background checks on all gun purchases, closing the so-called “gun-show loophole.” He also called on Congress to address the relationship of mental illness to the violent shootings.
That measure would have added 1,000 FBI agents to focus on “traditional crime” and 500 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents to combat drug smuggling, and it included funding to hire 50,000 more state and local police officers.
At the time, Mr. Biden described the proposal as “the most comprehensive anti-crime legislation in over a decade” and said it focused on “the new challenges” that police across the country face every day.
His bill, which stalled in Congress, would have revitalized the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) by authorizing $1.15 billion a year. The George W. Bush administration had reduced the COPS program significantly since 2001.