Obama puts Biden in charge of gun reform taskforce
US president Barack Obama is to put tackling gun violence at the heart of his second term, placing his vice-president in charge of a taskforce to produce concrete proposals on the reform of firearm laws within weeks.
In an announcement that places him on collision course with entrenched and powerful vested interests, Mr Obama pledged yesterday to force action on one of the most emotive issues in the US.
Aware of the dangers of letting the emotion released by the Newtown shootings fade, he ordered the taskforce, under vice-president Joe Biden, to produce legislation that could be sent to Congress in January. “This time, the words need to lead to action,” he said, referring to past massacres in which a sense of public outrage failed to translate into legislation.
The gun issue was not part of Mr Obama’s election campaign in 2008 or this year. But the killings in Connecticut of 20 children and six teaching staff changed the president’s attitude. Teachers died trying to shield the children.
It was time for politicians, the president said, to display “one tiny iota of the courage those teachers in Newtown summoned on Friday”. Mr Obama’s comments were welcomed by the most high-profile advocate of gun control, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had been scathing about the president’s apparent lack of commitment.
“I was very encouraged by the president’s strong statement and his announcement is an important step in the right direction. 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.
Mr Obama said the Connecticut shootings had changed the debate in the US. “I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” he said.
“It won’t be easy, but that can’t be an excuse not to try.” Proposals on tackling gun violence will be in his inauguration speech on January 21st. “There is no doubt this has to be a central issue,” he said.
The taskforce will look at changing gun laws, improving access to mental healthcare and at what Mr Obama described as the glorification of violence in American culture.
Speaking as more funerals were held in Newtown, he dismissed the idea that the public did not have the attention span required to maintain support for new gun controls. “I have more confidence in the American people than that,” he said. – (Guardian service)