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Gun task force draws cool GOP reception
Vice president tapped to head effort
As families of victims of Friday’s Connecticut elementary school shooting grieved during another day of funerals, President Obama promised action on new gun-control proposals and tapped Vice President Joseph R. Biden to head up the White House’s efforts.
Creating the Biden-led task force also is the first tangible action Mr. Obama has taken to grapple with the issue of gun violence in the aftermath of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., last week that claimed the lives of 20 schoolchildren and eight adults, including the suspected shooter.
“The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” he said Wednesday in a White House press briefing.
Gun rights backers on Capitol Hill have been largely silent since the school tragedy, but some lawmakers have begun to voice opposition — or at least skepticism — as the White House has ramped up talk of proposed legislation.
Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the Roll Call newspaper Tuesday that gun-control legislation is not a priority for the chamber.
“We’re going to take a look at what happened there, and what can be done to help avoid it in the future, but gun control is not going to be something that I would support,” he said.
Other Republicans on Tuesday indicated a willingness to participate in a broader, bipartisan look at guns, mental health issues and violent influences on youths, but they stopped well short of getting behind the president’s gun-control push.
“I think we ought to pursue the ideas that call for a blue-ribbon task force or commission with all stakeholders that can look at the much bigger issues associated with tragic events, such as this,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It certainly can’t be a debate just about guns.”
Mr. Obama did not announce any specific policy goals, saying only that Mr. Biden would head a task force of Cabinet officials and outside organizations that will produce legislative proposals no later than the end of January.
“This is not some Washington commission that will study the issue for six months then publish a report that gets read and gets put aside,” the president said.
“This time, the words need to lead to action,” he added.
The president predicted that even most gun owners would back his proposals, but a Gallup Poll indicates the White House may be overestimating the American appetite for gun control.
Americans say the best way to stop mass shootings like the school rampage in Connecticut is to increase police at schools and focus on mental health issues — and give lower priority to banning semiautomatic guns, according to Gallup’s latest polling.
The poll found that 87 percent thought putting more police at schools would be at least somewhat effective, and 84 percent thought increasing spending on mental health would help, but only 63 percent said a ban on semi-automatic firearms would be “very effective” or “somewhat effective,” making it fifth on a list of six options Gallup offered.
Indeed, Americans said that trying to curtail the amount of violence depicted on television and in video games would be more effective than a gun ban.
Gallup said that most striking was how those surveyed seemed to think there was little that could be done.
“It is clear that Americans are not overwhelmingly convinced that any of the actions would be highly effective in preventing future school shootings,” the polling organization said.
Administration officials said this week that the president supports reinstating a ban on assault weapons, but only as part of a much broader strategy aimed at putting a stop to the string of mass shootings that the nation has endured in recent years.
Given the renewed attention on Capitol Hill to firearms restrictions in the wake of Friday’s slayings, the main focus of the task force likely will be more gun-control measures. But Mr. Obama said the group also would examine mental health issues and “a culture that — all too often — glorifies guns and violence,” he said.
Retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, this week called for a similar commission to study contributing factors to gun violence, singling out the entertainment world and “realism of video games and movies now” as a direct link to the shooting sprees.
The president said he chose Mr. Biden to lead the task force at least in part because of his role in drafting the comprehensive 1994 crime bill, which included a ban on assault weapons. That ban lapsed in 2004.
During his remarks, Mr. Obama spoke favorably about the ban, noting that President Reagan supported it. He also referred to proposals to enhance background checks for gun sales and places limits on purchases of high-capacity magazine clips.
While some pro-gun lawmakers on Capitol Hill have started expressing support for more restrictions, the gun lobby remains a powerful force in Washington.
On Tuesday, the National Rifle Association said it was “heartbroken” by the tragedy and wants to play a role in a national conversation to limit gun violence.
The funerals in Newtown scheduled for Wednesday included those for four children, a teacher and the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school that 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza attacked Friday.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at email@example.com.
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