Vice-President Joe Biden has been handed the job of leading America’s response to the Newtown massacre.
President Barack Obama confirmed yesterday that Mr Biden will be in charge of a task force set up to formulate new proposals to reduce gun violence. Setting a January deadline for the recommendations, the President said: “This time the words need to lead to action.”
Referring to the massacre last week, when Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot dead 20 children and six adults, the President, who attended an inter-faith vigil in Newtown at the weekend, added that “if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try”.
To that end, the Vice-President will head a group of Obama cabinet members and others from beyond the administration in coming up with the plans that the President promised to “push without delay”.
“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,” he said.
The White House push came as families in Newtown continue to bury their dead. Before the President spoke, the family of Dylan Hockley, the British six-year-old who perished in the Sandy Hook shootings, released a statement voicing their grief and paying tribute to the school staff “who all selflessly died trying to save our children”.
The Hockley family – Dylan, his parents, Ian and Nicole, and his elder brother, Jake – moved to Newtown only two years ago, choosing the hilly neighbourhood of Sandy Hook “specifically for the community and the elementary school”.
Yesterday, in a statement issued via the Foreign Office, they said: “Everyone who met Dylan fell in love with him. His beaming smile would light up any room and his laugh was the sweetest music… There are no words that can express our feeling of loss… We love you, Mr D, our special, gorgeous angel.”
While bowing to political reality and acknowledging that the second amendment of the US Constitution guarantees an individual “a right to bear arms”, Mr Obama said that following Sandy Hook, he was “willing to bet” that even gun owners “don’t think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas; that an unbalanced man shouldn’t be able to get his hands on a military-style assault rifle so easily”.
The President also confirmed that the issue of how America deals with mental illness will come under scrutiny. “We’re going to need to work on making access to mental health at least as easy as access to a gun,” he said. “We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that, all too often, glorifies guns and violence.”
Mr Biden, a former senator who the President pointed out wrote the 1994 crime bill which helped to bring down the rate of violent crime in the US, has often been Mr Obama’s go-to official when conducting tricky negotiations with Congress.
Earlier, the White House said the President had spoken with Senator Joe Manchin, a prominent pro-gun Democrat, as he attempts to rally support on the issue and bring all sides to the debating table. The Senator, according to The Wall Street Journal, said he knew that “my friends at the NRA [National Rifle Association] and those who support our second-amendment rights will participate because I know that their hearts are aching for the families in Newtown, just like all Americans”.