President Obama on Wednesday vowed to submit new gun control proposals to Congress by January, and he put Vice President Biden in charge of a task force that will recommend the legislation he should seek.
Obama, who pledged to address gun violence after last week's mass murder at a Connecticut elementary school, said Wednesday that he wants to see the ban on assault weapons renewed. He said he also supports restricting the availability of high-capacity ammunition clips and requiring criminal background checks for gun buyers who purchase weapons at gun shows.
The president said the Biden commission would look beyond gun control and explore what role mental health issues and a "culture that ... glorifies guns and violence" play in such attacks.
"This time the words need to lead to action," the president said. "This is not some Washington commission."
The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in which 20 children and six adults were shot to death, reignited the debate over the nation's gun laws and prompted Obama to speak out on an issue he hasn't addressed since taking office in 2009.
In tapping Biden for one of his major second-term initiatives, Obama handed the reins to a vice president whose verbal gaffes have made him a target for ridicule by Republicans. But Biden brings considerable experience to the issue. A longtime proponent of gun control, Biden helped lay the foundation for the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban signed by President Clinton.
"Sheriff Joe to the rescue," quipped one GOP strategist. "I doubt he'll make a lick of difference, but I can see why Obama chose him. Biden is one of the leading voices on gun control."
This isn't the first time Obama looked to Biden for help on the gun issue. Obama dispatched his then-running mate in 2008 to assure skeptical voters in pro-gun states that Obama was not a threat to their Second Amendment rights.
"I guarantee you Barack Obama ain't taking my shotguns, so don't buy that malarkey," Biden told Virginians. "If [Obama] tries to fool with my Beretta, he's got a problem."
Biden will get help on the issue from the departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security.
Gun-control advocates are urging Obama to take more immediate action, including introducing legislation in the current lame-duck session of Congress. But White House officials said Obama believes a more comprehensive approach is needed, and that will take more time to develop.
Obama bristled when reporters questioned why he didn't act before, given how many mass shootings have occurred under his watch.
"I've been president of the United States dealing with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars," he said. "I don't think I've been on vacation."
Gun control hasn't been a popular issue on Capitol Hill, but Obama assured lawmakers that a balance could be struck between gun owners and those who support gun control.
"There is a big chunk of space between what the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all," Obama said. "And that space is what Joe is going to be working on to try to identify where we can find some common ground."