President Barack Obama will on Wednesday announce the first step on gun control following the Newtown school shootings: an interagency task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, charged with guiding the administration's continuing response.
The 11:45 a.m. announcement will be the third time in five days Obama has addressed the massacre that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. And it will follow a call on Friday for "meaningful action" and his Sunday pledge to use the White House to "engage" Americans to prevent mass shootings.
According to a White House official, the president likely won't make significant policy announcements but will instead explain how his administration will determine what to do next.
Obama spoke Monday with Biden and three Cabinet secretaries - Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius -- "to begin looking at ways the country can respond to the tragedy in Newtown," the White House said.
Meanwhile, Valerie Jarrett, Obama's senior adviser, who traveled with him to Connecticut for the vigil on Sunday, spent an hour on Tuesday meeting in the White House Roosevelt Room with 10 victims of past mass shootings and Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Gross said Jarrett didn't reveal what Obama plans to do but accepted a letter to the president from the delegation of victims.
"She in no uncertain terms reaffirmed the president's commitment to doing whatever he can ... to make this the best nation that we can be and protect the safety of our kids," Gross said. "She said that we need to look at the issue comprehensively and policy is part of it."
Though Obama has long said he favors reinstating the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, he has spent almost no political capital as president to enact any new restrictions on gun rights, despite mass shootings in Tucson, Ariz., Oak Creek, Wis., and Aurora, Colo., before Newtown.
But the Connecticut killings seem to have struck a chord with Obama -- he teared up while delivering a four-minute statement at the White House Friday, then Sunday pledged to help prevent more mass killings. And it has shifted at least three NRA-backed Democratic senators: Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner and Virginia.
Obama on Tuesday called Manchin, who in a 2010 campaign ad titled "Dead Aim" touted his NRA endorsement before firing his rifle at a copy of proposed cap-and-trade legislation, to discuss how to proceed.
Before their White House meeting Tuesday, the Brady delegation met at the Capitol with Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and, in what Gross said was a first for the group, representatives of House Republicans.
"We seem to be at a unique moment in time where there seems to be significantly more momentum," Gross said. "It clearly demonstrated that we're having this conversation in a different way than we have in the past."
The momentum that gun control advocates feel is on their side has come during a near-total media blackout from the NRA. The gun-rights advocacy organization went silent from the time of the Newtown massacre Friday morning until its announcement late Tuesday afternoon that it is "shocked, saddened and heartbroken by news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown."
The NRA announced plans for a "major news conference" on Friday, adding "the NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
But while the NRA went silent on social media and did not respond to reporters' requests for five days, its regular online news show portrayed many of the talking points the organization is likely to pursue.
On Tuesday's edition of the NRA's nightly online news show, host Ginny Simone called the 1994 assault weapons ban "a ban we all know was a failed experiment from the start."
"What we need to do is stop making schools magnets for mass murderers like Adam Lanza," Simone said while introducing an interview with Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute. Kopel and Simone then discussed Connecticut's existing gun laws and how they failed to prevent Newtown, and called for more school employees to be armed.
Biden, who is not expected to speak at the Wednesday announcement, piloted Obama's middle-class task force and was in charge of stimulus spending accountability.
Gross and other advocates are pushing for a legislative solution, some of which Obama already supports.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday reiterated Obama's past support for the idea of an assault weapons ban and closing "the so-called gun show loophole." Carney said the president could also back a prohibition on high-capacity ammunition clips like those used in the Aurora and Newtown shootings.
Apart from pushing Congress to pass new gun laws -- which faces many obstacles, including GOP control of the House for the next two years -- Obama has a few steps he could take on his own, like a broader requirement that gun dealers to notify the government of any purchase of multiple semi-automatic weapons. Such notifications are already required in the four states that border Mexico.
"We can't tolerate this anymore," Obama said Sunday. "These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society."
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