WASHINGTON — Spurred by a horrific elementary school shooting, President Barack Obama tasked his administration Wednesday with creating concrete proposals to reduce gun violence that has plagued the country.
"This time, the words need to lead to action," said Obama, who set a January deadline for the recommendations. He vowed to push for their implementation without delay.
The president, who exerted little political capital on gun control during his first term, also pressed Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. He also called for stricter background checks for people who seek to purchase weapons and limited high capacity clips.
"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Obama said. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence."
Obama's announcement Wednesday underscores the urgency the White House sees in formulating a response to the shooting in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six adults were killed when a man carrying a military-style rifle stormed an elementary school.
The massacre has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there is some concern that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown shooting eases.
Obama said Wednesday it was "encouraging" to see people of different backgrounds and political affiliations coming to an understanding that the country has an obligation to prevent such violence.
Appealing to gun owners, Obama said he believes in the Second Amendment and the country's strong tradition of gun ownership. And he said "the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible."
The president tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading the administration-wide effort to create new gun control policies. Obama also wants his team to consider ways to improve mental health resources and address ways to create a culture that doesn't promote violence.
The departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security will all be part of the process.
Biden's prominent role in the process could be an asset for the White House in getting gun legislation through Congress. The vice president spent decades in the Senate and has been called on by Obama before to use his long-standing relationships with lawmakers to build support for White House measures.