Vice President Joe Biden begins work with gun violence task force

Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 12:40pm

(CNN) -- Trying to move at warp speed in a city accustomed to a more glacial pace, President Barack Obama's administration opens its formal effort to change U.S. gun laws on Thursday, less than a week after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting that shocked the nation.

Vice President Joe Biden will meet with law enforcement leaders at the White House on Thursday to begin formulating what Obama called "real reforms right now" in the wake of the shooting that killed 27 people -- including 20 children -- and the shooter.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, the bleak procession of grief continued with the burials of three children and two teachers killed when Adam Lanza opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. Principal Dawn Hochsprung also will be buried, in upstate New York.

"It's an assembly line of wakes and funerals," said Lillian Bittman, former chairwoman of the Newtown school board. "We can't even figure out which ones to go to. There are so many."

Thursday's burial roster listed three 6-year-olds: Allison Wyatt, who loved to draw and wanted to be an artist; Benjamin Wheeler, who sported an impish smile and loved the Beatles; and red-headed Catherine Hubbard, who loved animals.

In addition to Hochsprung, teachers Lauren Gabrielle Rosseau and Anne Marie Murphy will be buried.

They all died Friday when, according to police, 20-year-old Lanza killed his mother, shot his way into the school and began killing. The carnage ended only when Lanza shot himself in the head.

The deaths prompted a national reaction that continued Thursday. Carloads of teenagers from a Minnesota school that suffered through a mass shooting in 2005 headed toward Newtown to offer their support to the community.

Planning is also under way for Friday tributes to mark the moment the killings began. Church bells will toll across the region at 9:30 a.m., and some websites plan to go dark in honor of the victims. Some cities across the nation were also planning a moment of silence.

The bloodshed, focused as it was on little children, shocked a nation that has become all but inured to mass killings and prompted immediate outcry among many to address gun laws and violence.

A slight majority of Americans now favor major restrictions on guns: 52%, up 5 percentage points from a survey in August after the July mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people died, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released Wednesday.

And 46% believe the government has a role in solving the issue, up 13 percentage points from January 2011, after the Tucson, Arizona, shooting that killed six and left former Rep. Gabby Giffords badly wounded.

On Wednesday, Obama demanded the proposals by January while acknowledging the complex connection of factors involving gun violence and the overwhelming odds such legislation could face in a Congress heavily influenced by the gun-rights lobby.

"But the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," he said. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence."

Obama highlighted suggestions to better restrict gun sales to criminals and those with mental-health issues and improve access to mental health care.

After Biden's meeting Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Connecticut to meet with law enforcement officials and first responders, a Justice Department official said Thursday. He will not be attending funerals or memorials, the official said.

In the days after the shootings, conservative Democrats and some Republicans who have traditionally supported gun rights came out to say they would be open to discussing the issue.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has said she will introduce legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The White House said Tuesday that the president supports that effort.

More than 195,000 people also signed an online White House petition supporting new gun-control legislation.

The gun industry itself has been largely silent on the issue, although the National Rifle Association came out Tuesday to say it would offer "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

The group has scheduled a news conference for Friday morning to discuss its plans.

While gun control advocates say they know the battle will be tough, they also believe the killings have so shocked the nation's conscience that change is finally possible.

"I think that we are at a historic moment," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut.
 

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