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US Gun Violence Task Force Holds First Meeting


Vice President Joe Biden (center) with members of gun violence task force meet at White House Dec. 20, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden (center) with members of gun violence task force meet at White House Dec. 20, 2012

A gun violence task force, created by President Barack Obama and headed by Vice President Joe Biden, held its first meeting Thursday to begin to seek solutions to gun violence in the wake of the massacre of children and adults at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Biden's job is to guide the group of Cabinet officials and government agency chiefs as they consult with city and state officials and others to come up with ideas, and draw up recommendations for Congress.

Thursday's meeting included state law enforcement officials. Also present -- Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Obama has said the many complexities of the gun violence problem in America -- including mental health, education and the constitutional right to bear arms -- must not prevent action.

Opening the meeting, Biden reiterated Mr. Obama's determination in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead.

"The president is absolutely committed to keeping his promise that we will act, and we will act in a way that is designed, even as he says, if we can only save one life, we have to take action," Biden said.

President Obama says he will act without delay on task force recommendations, and ensure that proposals are sent to Capitol Hill and acted upon by Congress "in a timely manner."

The Connecticut shootings created an unprecedented level of national debate, and seemingly momentum for some sort of action. But the attention of Congress next year still will be on difficult fiscal issues.

During a news conference focusing on the apparent impasse with President Obama over a fiscal deal, House of Representatives Speaker Republican John Boehner would not commit to taking up gun control legislation.

"He has appointed Vice President Biden to lead a commission; when the vice president's recommendations come forward we will certainly take them into consideration. But at this point I think our hearts and souls ought to be, to think about those victims in this horrible tragedy," Boehner said.

At the White House, reporters tried to obtain a clearer picture of how the president will pursue his gun violence action agenda.

Besides congressional action, which may be difficult to achieve in the face of the powerful gun lobby groups, Obama has the option of issuing executive orders to move the process forward.

Press secretary Jay Carney had this response when asked about this avenue for action.

"There are the specific things already that the president has called on Congress to do, and will continue to call on Congress to do. There will be other efforts that will require congressional action I suspect, but as we said from the beginning it does not begin and end with congressional action. There are numerous other things that we need to do as a nation and that we in Washington can do," Carney said.

In remarks Wednesday, President Obama said a majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons, and high capacity ammunition clips, and support laws that would require background checks before all gun purchases.

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