Obama Moves Forward On New Gun Legislation

President Barack Obama said that gun control would be a "central issue" in his second term on Wednesday. He also announced that Vice President Joe Biden will head up a panel that will offer proposals by mid-January to curb gun violence. The announcement, however, turned to an impromptu press conference, in which the president pivoted to questions about the fiscal cliff. He said the events in Newtown, Conn., should "give us some perspective" on the debate and urged quick action in Congress.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. The White House has a newfound sense of urgency when it comes to gun violence. After four years of inaction on the issue, President Obama is pressing forward with new gun control legislation. As NPR's Mara Liasson reports, the killing of 20 children and six faculty members at an elementary school in Connecticut has changed the debate.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: In President Obama's nearly four years in office, there have been many mass shootings, including at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, at a shopping plaza in Tucson, Arizona and at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. None of these events spurred the president to respond with legislation. But coming on the heels of his reelection, the Newtown killings have.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The good news is there's already a growing consensus for us to build from. 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.

LIASSON: Mr. Obama was speaking to reporters at the White House today in the James S. Brady briefing room, named for Ronald Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, who was shot and severely disabled in an assassination attempt on President Reagan's life. President Obama said he'd ordered Vice President Joe Biden to meet with his cabinet, members of Congress and stakeholders to come up with a set of concrete proposals no later than January.

OBAMA: As soon as we get back those recommendations, I will be putting forward very specific proposals. I will be talking about them in my State of the Union and we will be working with interested members of Congress to try to get something done.

LIASSON: There hasn't been any major gun legislation since the assault weapons ban expired in 2004 and Democrats essentially gave up on the issue. But President Obama believes this time is different.

OBAMA: The idea that we would say this is terrible, this is a tragedy, never again, and we don't have the sustained attention span to be able to get this done over the next several months, doesn't make sense.

LIASSON: Passing gun control legislation, even after Newtown, will be difficult. On Friday, leaders of the NRA, the powerful gun lobby opposed to almost any firearms restrictions, will make their first remarks since the Newtown shooting. Mr. Obama said he was confident the NRA will agree with him that there's a big chunk of space between what the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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