Obama mentions NRA members and sets deadline for gun law actions
By Josh Levs and Holly Yan
(CNN) — The nation will have a set of recommendations to address widespread gun violence within weeks, President Obama announced Wednesday.
Vice President Joe Obama will lead an inter-agency group to come up with “concrete proposals no later than January — proposals that I then intend to push without delay,” the president said.
Speaking five days after a gunman killed 27 people, including 20 children, at a Connecticut elementary school, Obama said that “if there is even one thing that we can do” to prevent such tragedies, “we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try.”
“This is not some Washington commission. 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.”
No single law or set of laws can prevent gun violence, the president said.
But the complexity of the issue “can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing,” he said.
The “complex” issue demands action on gun laws and work in making “access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun,” he said.
The country also needs to tackle a “culture that all to often glorifies guns and violence,” he said.
“And any actions that we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.”
President Obama said that the National Rifle Association, which leads the pro-gun lobby in the United States, “has members who are mothers and fathers” likely impacted by the Connecticut school shooting that killed 20 young children.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has said she will introduce legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that the president supports that effort.
Obama also wants to close “the so-called gun show loophole which allows people to buy weapons without going through the background checks that are standard when you purchase ” them retail, Carney said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder echoed those remarks Wednesday. “There’s a range of things we need to do,” he said, adding that any one measure would not be adequate.
The proposals necessary will involve people who “aren’t always thought of in the law enforcmeent sphere,” including the departments of Education and Health and Human Services, he said.
Newtown United, a newly formed group in the stricken town, scheduled an open meeting for Wednesday evening to discuss what it calls “sensible gun legislation.”
Meanwhile, heartbreaking funerals continue. Those being buried Wednesday include several more students and a beloved teacher.
They are among those killed when gunman Adam Lanza shot his mother four times in the head before shooting his way into into Sandy Hook Elementary, opening fire on staff and students no older than 7. Lanza then killed himself.
Authorities are working to determine a motive.
So far, they have been unable to retrieve data from a computer in Lanza’s home, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.
The gunman apparently smashed the computer and extensively damaged the hard drive, the official said, adding that the FBI is assisting Connecticut State Police.
Authorities have said the shooter took three of his mother’s weapons — two handguns and a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle — to the elementary school.
There are no records of any police incident calls to the Lanza home in the past, state police said Wednesday.
Holder had no comment on what the FBI has found in the investigation.
Gun debate intensifies
The National Rifle Association commented Tuesday for the first time since the massacre, saying it was shocked and heartbroken by the tragedy. The group is planning to hold a news conference on Friday.
“Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting,” it said. “The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”
While the NRA has been largely quiet, the national debate over guns is reaching a new high — some calling for stricter control, others for more access.
“In the state of Texas, with our concealed handgun license, if you have been duly backgrounded and trained and you are a concealed handgun license carrying individual, you should be able to carry your handgun anywhere in this state,” Gov. Rick Perry said Monday at a tea party event. He later added that he was referring to public property.
Meanwhile, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation that would have allowed those licensed and trained to carry concealed pistols in schools and other public places, his office said Tuesday.
Citizens across the country are also weighing in, particularly on social media.
Bill Mingin’s gun lay under the floorboards of his attic for 40 years, he said in an iReport.
“I thought I needed it ‘just in case,'” the New Jersey man said.
But after the Newtown massacre, he thought of selling it — but didn’t want it ending up in “the hands of a bad person.”
“So I smashed it with a sledge hammer, and threw it in the river. No one will ever be hurt with this deadly toy. Let’s get rid of the guns. Let it start with mine.”
Others say future tragedies can be avoided by arming teachers.
A bill introduced in the South Carolina legislature Tuesday would allow school employees with concealed weapons licenses to carry guns at schools. The bill would require those workers to be certified as marksmen and use only breakable bullets to avoid ricochets.
The debate has also sparked fierce dialogue at times.
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said if more guns had been at Sandy Hook Elementary School, most victims would be alive.
“Since we have concealed carry laws in all of our country now, people can get a concealed firearm. And yet we have laws that say not in schools,” Pratt said. “And so in the very places that have been sought out by monsters such as the murderer of these adults and children, we’re saying, ‘No, we don’t want you to be able to defend yourself.’ It’s better that you just sit there and wait to be killed. And we find that morally incomprehensible.”
CNN’s Piers Morgan questioned whether more guns are the answer in a country with more than 300 million non-military firearms. He also challenged Pratt on the issue of high-power assault rifles.
“Post what happened at Sandy Hook, your answer to this problem of repeated use of this weapon with these high-capacity magazines is to continue letting Americans buy them with impunity, and to not concern yourself with these mass shootings, is that right,” Morgan asked.
“The 2nd Amendment means what it says, and meanwhile, you want to continue laws against self-defense,” Pratt responded.
A long series of final goodbyes
Back in Newtown, bereaved family members buried loved ones.
Victoria “Vicki” Soto, a first-grade teacher who tried to shield her students from bullets, was among them Wednesday.
A police honor guard saluted her casket as bagpipers played outside the Lordship Community Church in Stratford, Connecticut. The church set up more than 100 chairs outside the building to accommodate the overflow of people paying their respects.
“You were an angel to those 19 children you protected, to the 19 families and the community,” Soto’s sister Jillian said at the service.
“She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself, and especially children,” her mother Donna has said of Soto. “She loved them more than life, and she would definitely put herself in front of them any day.”
Soto, 27, wanted to be a teacher since she was 3 years old.
She “instinctively went into action when a monster came into her classroom and tried to protect the kids that she loved so much,” cousin James Wiltsie said. “We just want the public to know that Vicki was a hero.”
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan traveled to Newtown to pay his respects to the family of school principal Dawn Hochsprung, and “to hear from educators on how we can help,” he said on Twitter.
Hochsprung’s family had calling hours scheduled for Wednesday. Her funeral will be private on Thursday, outside of Connecticut.
Seven-year-old Daniel Barden’s burial was scheduled for Wednesday, as well.
His “fearless” pursuit of happiness earned him ripped jeans, his family said.
Taking after his musician dad, Daniel formed a band with his brother and sister, playing the drums.
“He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world,” Daniel’s family said.
Caroline Previdi’s relatives also were saying their final goodbyes Wednesday.
Even after her death, 6-year-old Caroline continued to touch the lives of others. A Facebook page called “RIP Caroline Previdi — Sandy Hook Massacre Victim” had more than 5,400 “likes” on Wednesday morning.
Charlotte Bacon was another 6-year-old whose life was cut far too short. Charlotte, a beaming bundle of energy under bright red curls, also will be buried Wednesday.
The black hearses with caskets will continue driving though Newtown for days to come.
CNN’s Jessica Yellin, Dave Alsup, Susan Candiotti, Sandra Endo and Daphne Sashin contributed to this report.