Obama appoints a Biden-led task force on gun control, and Bloomberg cheers

Obama, in the press briefing room at the White House. ()
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Five days after the shooting massacre in Newtown, President Obama announced a new gun task force to be chaired by Vice President Joe Biden.

"We know this is a complex issue that stirs deeply held passions and political divides," said Obama, standing alongside Biden, at the White House this morning. "But the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing."

Obama pledged the task force would not be "some Washington commission," and said the vice president would come up with a set of concrete proposals by next month, when the president said he intends to introduced the measures in Congress, and to press the issue in his State of the Union speech and other appearances.

Obama is reportedly looking at renewing a ban on assault weapons and banning high-capacity clips for ammunition, among other things.

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"If we're going to change things, it's going to take a wave of Americans," said Obama, who called on leaders in Congress to "summon one tiny iota" of the courage showed by the principal in Newtown, who was slain trying to protect the school's students.

Gun-control advocates have urged Obama to act quickly, while the memories of Newtown remain in the public mind, but Obama said he was confident Americans would continue to remember the tragedy, however long it took. 

"The idea that we would say this is terrible, this is a tragedy, never again, and we don't have the sustained attention span to get this done over the next several months doesn't make sense," he said. "I have more confidence in the American people than that." 

Until last week, gun control had disappeared from the public debate, notwithstanding periodic bursts of attention following other shootings, with the public believing that such incidents were isolated acts and legislators loath to test the power of the National Rifle Association.

Asked about the N.R.A.'s impact on any proposed legislation, Obama said, "The N.R.A. is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers and I would expect they've been impacted by this as well. And hopefully they'll do some self-reflection."

He called on Biden to find the space between the rights of gun owners and a more robust attempt at public safety.

"There is a big chunk of space, between what the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all," he said. "And that space is what Joe's going to be working on to see where we can find some common ground."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has become the public face and chief patron of the contemporary gun-control movement, cheered the selection of Biden, noting that the former senator chaired the Judiciary Committee when the last major legislation restricting guns was passed in the early 1990s.

"The country needs his leadership if we are going to reduce the daily bloodshed from gun violence that we have seen for too long," Bloomberg said in a statement that was sent as the president was still taking questions from the press. "The task force must move quickly with its work, as 34 Americans will be murdered with guns every day that passes without common sense reforms to our laws."

Bloomberg called on Obama to use his executive powers to appoint a new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, to direct better data-sharing among federal agencies, increase prosecution of illegal gun buyers, and lift a gag order that shields some gun traffickers.

"There should be no delay in taking these steps,” Bloomberg said.