President Obama called for new proposals for reducing gun violence during an address Wednesday.
He appointed Vice President Joseph Biden to head an inter-agency panel to come up with "a set of concrete proposals by January that I intend to push without delay," Obama said.
In the wake of the shooting deaths of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday, the issue of gun control, especially assault weapons and high capacity magazines, has been brought to the fore of the national discussion.
"This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now," Obama said.
The panel will include members of the cabinet, Congress and other stakeholders, Obama said.
"Any single gun law can't solve all these problems," he said. "We'll take a look at mental health, schools. We know issues of gun safety will be an element of it."
In the past any effort at gun law reform has been viewed as an encroachment of the Second Amendment, Obama said, so he's looking for a thoughtful approach.
"There's a big chunk of space between what the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all," he said. "That space is what we're going to be working on to see if we can find some common ground."
Not all gun violence can be prevented, Obama said, "but that can't be an excuse not to try."
Reform will require Americans from across the political and cultural spectrum to work together.
"If we're going to change things, it's going to take a wave of Americans … standing up and saying, 'Enough,' on behalf of our kids."
In addition to reforming laws concerning military-style semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, Congress should close a loophole that allows gun sales at gun shows without a background check, Obama said.
He also emphasized the need to improve access to mental health care.
"We need to make access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun," he said.
"This time, the words need to lead to action."
Biden was the author of the 1994 crime bill that led to a ban on assault weapons, a ban that Obama noted was supported by all living former presidents at the time, including Ronald Reagan.
"There's already a growing consensus for us to build upon," Obama said. The majority of Americans already support banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity clips, as well as [requiring] background checks before any gun purchases, he said.
Meanwhile, as detectives continue to comb through evidence and talk to people who witnessed Friday's mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the state's chief medical examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver has asked a geneticist at the University of Connecticut to join in his investigation of the killings.
Carver is awaiting toxicology testing results for gunman Adam Lanza, 20, and information that may help answer the question of why Lanza gunned down 20 first-graders and six women at Sandy Hook.
"I'm exploring with the department of genetics what might be possible, if anything is possible," Carver said Tuesday. "Is there any identifiable disease associated with this behavior?"
Carver said he does not know whether Lanza had Asperger's syndrome — a possibility that has been raised — but he said Asperger's "is simply not on the menu, in terms of what is wrong with this kid. Asperger's is not associated with behavior patterns that are violent."
Determining why Lanza went on a rampage that apparently ended only when fast-arriving police prompted him to kill himself may be difficult. Lanza destroyed a hard drive from his computer, which authorities had hoped would reveal clues about what he did, and he killed his mother as she slept.
Carver said that Nancy Lanza died of four gunshots to the head from a .22-caliber rifle. She was in bed when her son killed her, and likely still asleep, Carver said. The rifle was left at the house.
Mary Ellen O'Toole, a retired FBI profiler and behavioral scientist, said seeking an answer in Adam Lanza's biology is worthwhile.
"I think it's great to consider if there's something here that would help people understand this behavior," O'Toole said.
There will be other important clues contained in the reports that detectives prepare about the crime scene and their interviews with witnesses, O'Toole said. Some of that information may help behavioral scientists answer the key question: why?
One thing is apparent from the evidence made public so far, she said. The assault on Sandy Hook Elementary "was not an impulsive act," she said. "This was well thought out."
The planning could have gone on for days, weeks or months, she said.
State police Lt. J. Paul Vance has repeatedly described the investigation as a process during which Newtown and state police detectives will peel back the layers of the case. Just how much of the story detectives will finally be able to tell remains unknown, but it will not be a fast process.
"It's going to take months," Vance said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has declared Friday a day of mourning and has asked that people observe a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. He has also asked houses of worship and government buildings with bells to ring them 26 times in honor of the victims.
"Let us all come together collectively to mourn the loss of far too many promising lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School," Malloy said. "Though we will never know the full measure of sorrow experienced by these families, we can let them know that we stand with them during this difficult time."
Malloy has also asked governors throughout the nation to join Connecticut "during this time of reflection and mourning."
"Mourning this tragedy has extended beyond Newtown, beyond the borders of Connecticut, and has spread across the nation and the world," Malloy said. "On behalf of the state of Connecticut, we appreciate the letters and calls of support that have been delivered to our state and to the family members during their hour of need."
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Connecticut's senators thanked their colleagues for a resolution of condolence and support for Newtown and urged Congress to never let such a tragedy occur again.
"Criminal and deranged people should not be able to get their hands on firearms,'' said Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who called for "a meaningful and thoughtful debate. .. This is our moment."
"The Supreme Court has made it clear that government can impose sensible regulation,'' said Blumenthal, who called for new restrictions on high capacity ammunition magazines that enable weapons to quickly fire multiple rounds.
"What real hunter uses or needs 30-round clips?"
Independent Joseph Lieberman said, "The question is, 'Can we do anything to stop this from happening again?' "
"We can prevent this from happening to people again," Lieberman said. "We can certainly prevent it from happening to some people. I have seen some progress. Some colleagues who have been protectors of gun rights are saying things have to change."
He cited Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. On Monday, in response to the Newtown shootings, Warner said "enough is enough" and called for "rational gun control."
"I hope we will act," Lieberman said. "There will be no better tribute, no better consolation to the families that lost loved ones."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun