President Obama Unveils Plan to Tackle Gun Control

PHOTO: President Barack Obama stands with Vice President Joe Biden as he makes a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room about policies he will pursue following the Newtown, Ct. shootings, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, at the White House in Washington.Charles Dharapak/AP Photo
President Barack Obama stands with Vice President Joe Biden as he makes a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room about policies he will pursue following the Newtown, Ct., school shootings, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, at the White House in Washington.

President Obama on Wednesday outlined how he will tackle new laws in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. mass shooting, selecting Vice President Joe Biden to steer efforts to craft gun control and mental health policies.

Obama directed Biden to lead a discussion with cabinet members and outside groups to come up with a "concrete set" of proposals by January, which he said he would push "without delay" with the aim of holding votes in Congress next year.

"The fact that this problem is complex is no longer an excuse for doing nothing," he said. "This time, the words need to lead to action."

The shooting in Newtown, which left 26 dead -- 20 children and six adults -- appeared to signal a major shift in the debate over the nation's gun laws, which had been largely dormant for a decade.

Obama said that he would support legislation that would ban certain types of semiautomatic guns, also known as the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said she would introduce legislation that renews the ban in the next Congress.

The president would also back closing the so-called "gun show loophole," which allows people to purchase guns from a private seller without a background check, and banning high-capacity magazines, another key provision of the lapsed assault weapons ban. The expired law banned the sale of magazines that hold over 10 rounds.

Several pro-gun lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), signaled they would support measures like an assault weapons ban. Obama spoke on the phone with Manchin on Tuesday about new gun laws, according to reports.

Obama briefly alluded to proposals that address mental healthcare and the glorification of gun violence, but offered no specifics on how those areas would be addressed.

Seeking to diffuse skeptics who believe such an approach won't be fruitful, Obama said "this is not some Washington commission" and that Biden's group "has a very specific task to pull together real reforms right now."

Obama first hinted he would seek policy prescriptions to prevent future mass shootings on Friday, the day of the massacre.

"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," he said.

At a memorial service for the shooting victims in Newtown Sunday night, Obama said he would use "whatever power this office holds" to find solutions to prevent mass shootings.

"We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change," he said.

Those words encouraged gun control advocates who have been frustrated by the president's unwillingness to touch the issue during his first term in office. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that majorities of Americans back tougher restrictions on the purchase of guns and ammunition.

But major questions also linger over whether further gun control measures could actually stop future mass shootings from happening. For example, it is not clear whether the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle shooter Adam Lanza used in the massacre would have been outlawed under the previous assault weapons ban.

And despite the recent groundswell in support for action, gun control legislation could be notoriously difficult to pass. Previous mass shootings have yielded little action on gun laws and the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully prevented serious efforts to further restrict access to guns. Republicans in Congress whose support would necessary to pass any legislation have largely been reluctant to get behind gun control.

In a statement Tuesday, the NRA said it was ready "to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again" while announcing plans for a news conference on Friday.

Obama acknowledged that gun control is a "complex issue" that stirs deep emotions and political divides and that no one law could prevent future massacres, but said that should not stand in the way of his efforts.

"It won't be easy, but that can't be an excuse not to try," he said.