Just five days after the shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school that left 20 children and six adults dead, President Barack Obama announced the creation of a guns task force that will recommend policy change by next month.
In a broadcasted Wednesday press conference, Obama confirmed morning reports of the task force's formation and explained that the panel would not only deal with mass shootings but the “epidemic” of gun violence.
“This is a team that has a very specific task," the president said, adding that it is to put together "real reforms right now."
The task force will be led by Vice President Joe Biden, along with cabinet members and people he described as stakeholders.
Touting the vice president's planned role, Obama noted Biden's work as a U.S. Senator in backing a 1994 crime bill that included the now-expired assault weapons ban.
At the press conference, the president called for swift action, arguing that the response from the task force will not be a long study.
Obama acknowledged that while the second amendment to the Constitution “guarantees an individual right to bear arms," he called for a range of gun control measures to tackle violence. While Obama did not endorse specific legislation, he gave general support for more items such as regulation of gun show purchases and making it harder for people with mental health issues to obtain guns.
In general, Obama promised that he will use “all the power of this office," to help prevent gun violence.
Stressing that his initiative includes more than just major shootings, the president noted gun violence that has occurred since Friday's mass homicide, including a police officer who was killed in Memphis and a drive-by death in Missouri.
“Violence that we cannot accept as routine," Obama said.
Following his remarks, Obama took questions from reporters, including whether he gave enough attention to gun violence during his first term and whether a short domestic attention span will be an issue for the group. Responding, the president said that the group is "not going to be a commission," noting that there are already plans it can look at as part of its review.
The end product of the group, Obama told the press, is to come up with a “concrete set of recommendations in about a month.” He added that as soon as he gets recommendations, “I will be putting forward very specific proposals."
The president also plans to address the issue in his 2013 Station of the Union address to Congress, and called for congressional action on gun control.
At one point, the president had a tense exchange with a reporter who asked whether he paid enough attention to gun control previously.
“Where have you been?” he was asked.
“I don't think I've been on vacation,” the president responded, and noted that other parts of his agenda, including working on the economy and healthcare reform, also help those who will benefit from more gun safety. However, Obama said that he feels there needs to be "some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington.”
With regards to public attention spans, the president doubted that such a loss would occur in only a month after the Newtown deaths.
Kenneth Mitchell, superintendent of the South Orangetown school district in Rockland County and member of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, reacted positively when told about reports of Obama's plan for a task force.
"A task force is a great idea, as long as it does not get mired down in political churn or produces more rhetoric than action," he wrote to Patch. "There are decades worth of data out there about the extent to which children have been killed or injured by guns. Such a group should be able to be move rapidly."
Mitchell, who in 2009 was able to stop a parent with a unloaded gun who came into his office, called for more support from the federal and state governments in dealing with mental health, noting cuts that have been made for investment in it.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reacted favorably with the following statement:
“I stand firmly with President Obama's call to action today for a comprehensive approach that refuses to accept gun violence as routine. Congress has ducked action on commonsense gun laws for too long. We have an obligation to prevent tomorrow’s senseless deaths by coming together and ensuring that guns stay out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. Keeping our children safe from the scourge of gun violence is not a Republican or a Democratic principle, this is an issue for all Americans. There is no political ideology that finds this loss of life acceptable. The truth is that supporting the Second Amendment and reducing gun violence are compatible and consistent. Responsible gun owners vehemently oppose the kind of gun violence afflicting the streets of America. I am optimistic the mothers, fathers and reasonable gun owners of America will take back this conversation, and with the support of this new interagency task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, Congress can come together and agree that no American should have access to the high capacity ammunition clips made for our military, agree to close the gun show loophole, ban military style weapons that have no recreational sports use and stop the flow of illegal guns that are devastating our communities.”