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Sandy Hook shooting: why Obama is acting fast (+video)

President Obama announced a White House-led effort that will send a proposal to Congress in a matter of weeks, focusing on firearms as well as mental health, school safety, and law enforcement.

By Staff writer / December 19, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden (l.) listens as President Obama pauses during remarks on the the fiscal cliff negotiations during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House on Wednesday, Dec. 19, in Washington. Obama also announced that Biden will lead an administration-wide effort to curb gun violence in response to the Connecticut school shooting.

Evan Vucci/AP

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Washington

President Obama added new urgency on gun violence Wednesday by announcing a White House-led effort to craft proposals by January aimed at addressing what he called “the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day.”

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President Barack Obama is asking a team led by Vice President Joe Biden to offer "concrete proposals" to curb gun violence no later than January, in the aftermath of the horrific massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.

Vice President Joe Biden will lead the interagency task force, pulling together cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, and leaders of outside organizations and then sending a proposal to Congress in a matter of weeks. The focus will not be just on access to firearms – particularly semiautomatic weapons – and high-capacity ammunition magazines, but also on mental health care, school safety, and law enforcement. The effort comes in the wake of last Friday’s massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn, which killed 26 people, including 20 children.

“This is not some Washington commission,” Mr. Obama said, speaking from the White House briefing room. “This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task to pull together real reforms right now.”

By requesting speedy action, Obama is playing a game of beat the clock. Mass shootings have become a somewhat regular feature of life in America, and if the past is any guide, cries of outrage quickly subside as other policy priorities rise to the top. The “fiscal cliff,” immigration reform, energy policy – all will compete for attention in Obama’s second term.

Much of Wednesday’s press conference, in fact, was dominated by questions on Obama's fiscal cliff negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, aimed at preventing automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that will go into effect Jan. 1 if they cannot agree. The "commission" comment on gun violence carried some irony, given that the president’s lack of enthusiasm for the recommendations of his 2010 deficit commission have helped put America on the edge of that metaphorical cliff.

Four years into a presidency in which Obama has avoided taking on the wealthy, powerful gun lobby, gun violence is now competing for Washington’s attention. And on Wednesday, he seized upon the especially horrific nature of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy to make it a springboard for action.

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