10 Jan 2013
- The Guardian, UK
President Barack Obama is considering the use of an executive order to restrict access to guns or ammunition in the wake of nationwide revulsion in the US over the Connecticut school shootings, vice-president Joe Biden said Wednesday.
Such a move would be deeply controversial in the gun lobby, but Biden said the president was determined to explore every legislative avenue.
"The president is going to act," Biden said in a briefing to reporters before the inaugural meeting of a new national task force on gun control.
"Executive order, executive action that can be taken; we haven't decided what that is yet. But we're compiling it all with the help of the attorney general and all the rest of the cabinet members as well as legislative action, we believe, is required."
Biden did not specify what kind of action the president might take. In the past the Obama administration has used executive orders, which have the force of law, to require gun dealers to report when customers buy multiple high-powered rifles and to increase penalties for violating gun laws.
A new order, nearly certain to face legal challenges, could seek to tighten enforcement of laws governing private sales of guns or to beef up background checks.
"We are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything we're going to do nothing," Biden said. "It's critically important that we act."
Any unilateral action by the president seemed sure to inflame gun advocates, who argue that gun sales are protected under the second amendment and who equate gun control with tyranny.
Gun-rights groups are organising a "Gun Appreciation Day" on the weekend of the president's second inauguration. The influential conservative website the Drudge Report illustrated the story covering Biden's remarks with pictures of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.
Biden said that the 14 December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, in which 20 first-graders were shot dead in their classrooms by a man armed with a semi-automatic rifle, had mobilised the nation to act.
"Every once in a while there's something that awakens the conscience of the country, and that tragic event did it in a way like nothing I've seen in my career," Biden said.
The national taskforce includes the victims of mass shootings and gun control advocates. The group plans to meet Thursday with representatives of the National Rifle Association and gun retailers including Walmart. The taskforce was to deliver recommendations to the president as early as mid-month.
New York could become the first state to pass gun control laws after the Connecticut massacre, aides to Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in advance of his annual address planned for Wednesday afternoon.
Lawmakers in Albany worked late into the night Tuesday to settle on new rules to further restrict the sales of assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, and to require the regular renewal of gun permits, among other measures.