POSTED: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 2:24pm
UPDATED: Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 5:33pm
Washington D.C. — The nation will have a set of recommendations to address widespread gun violence within weeks, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday.
Vice President Joe Biden 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."
The group will include some Cabinet members and outside organizations.
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 too often glorifies guns and violence," he said.
"And any actions that we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts."
Speaking at a news conference, Obama called for quick action from Congress.
"A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases so that criminals can't take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won't take the responsibility of doing a background check at all," Obama said.
"I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these measures next year in a timely manner. And considering Congress hasn't confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years -- the agency that works most closely with state and local law enforcement to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals -- I'd suggest that they make this a priority early in the year."
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.
Obama said Wednesday he believes the Second Amendment does guarantee an individual a right to bear arms. And, he added, "This country has a strong tradition of gun ownership that's been handed down from generation to generation."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder echoed Obama's announcement 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 enforcement 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."
Stricken town buries the dead
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 Sandy Hook Elementary, opening fire on staff and students no older than 7. Lanza then killed himself.
Victoria "Vicki" Soto, a first-grade teacher who tried to shield her students from bullets, was buried 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 short. Charlotte, a beaming bundle of energy under bright red curls, also had a burial scheduled for Wednesday.
Black hearses with caskets will continue driving though Newtown for days to come.
Some cities across the country are planning a moment of silence Friday morning, marking a week after the massacre.
Authorities are working to determine a motive for the shooting spree.
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.