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National and world

January 8, 2013

White House ramping up gun violence discussions

WASHINGTON — Facing an end-of-the-month deadline, the Obama administration is calling gun owner groups, victims' organizations and representatives from the video-game industry to the White House this week for discussions on potential policy proposals for curbing gun violence.

President Barack Obama has ordered an administration-wide task force to send him proposals by the end of January. The group, led by Vice President Joe Biden, was formed in response to last month's horrific massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

Biden will meet Wednesday with gun violence victims' groups and gun safety organizations, a White House official said. On Thursday, he will hold talks with gun ownership groups, as well as advocates for sportsmen. The vice president also plans to meet this week with representatives from the entertainment and video-game industries. The official was not authorized to discuss the meetings before they were publicly announced and thus spoke on condition of anonymity.

Obama has called the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown the worst moment of his presidency. It catapulted gun control to the top of his priority list for the first time in his presidency and also led some pro-gun lawmakers on Capitol Hill to express a willingness to consider new measures.

But less than a month after the school shooting, gun control already has taken a backseat in Washington to economic issues. The president and lawmakers were consumed at year's end by efforts to avert the combination of spending cuts and tax hikes known as the "fiscal cliff." And Congress will face another set of equally pressing economic deadlines in March.

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said the next round of fiscal deadlines will occupy the attention of Congress and push off the consideration of gun legislation for at least three months.

"There will be plenty of time to take a look at their recommendations once they come forward," McConnell said of Biden's upcoming proposals during an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Obama aides say the president still plans to act quickly on Biden's proposals. They worry that as the shock of the Newtown shooting fades, so, too, will the prospects that pro-gun lawmakers will work with the White House to tighten restrictions.

"I believe most Americans would disagree with the idea that in the wake of what happened in Newtown, Conn., that we should put off any action on the issue of gun violence," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday in response to McConnell's comments. "It's certainly not a sentiment the president supports."

Biden's recommendations are likely to include proposals for legislation, as well as executive action Obama can sign into law without lawmakers' approval.

The president already has called on Congress to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that allow gun buyers to skirt background checks and restrict high-capacity magazines. While the president may consider additional gun control measures, he also has ordered his administration to examine ways to improve mental health coverage and consider cultural issues like violence in video games and movies.

Pro-gun lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said any comprehensive effort to respond to the Newtown shooting must include more than just tighter gun control.

In addition to Biden's meetings this week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will meet this week with parent and teacher groups, while Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will meet with mental health and disability advocates.

The White House said other meetings are also scheduled with community organizations, business owners and religious leaders.

 

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