White House highlights ‘obstacles’ to taking action on guns

Jay Carney speaks to reporters Dec. 17 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)As gun control advocates and even some gun rights supporters call for renewed focus on gun control, including a ban on assault weapons, following Friday's shooting in Newtown, Conn., the White House tamped down suggestions Monday that it will act quickly on the issue.

When asked at Monday's press briefing about the gun lobby's influence on potential action, White House spokesman Jay Carney responded, without specifically mentioning that lobby, "I think we all recognize that this is a complex problem and there are obstacles to taking action coming from a variety of places. What the president hopes is that everyone steps back and looks at the situation that has to be addressed and thinks broadly and thoughtfully about how we can move forward."

Carney suggested that the most Americans can immediately expect to see out of the White House will be an effort to engage the public "in the coming weeks."

He added that "no single piece of legislation, no single action will fully address the problem. So I don't have a specific agenda to announce to you today. I would simply point you to what the president said last night about moving forward in the coming weeks."

But Carney later stretched that timeline when asked about a potential loss of momentum on the issue. "It's hard to think about 20 6- and 7-year-olds and what happened to them on Friday, and imagine that in a few weeks or few months that pain would not still be incredibly intense," he said.

President Barack Obama spoke Sunday night at a vigil in Newtown and pledged to engage the public following the shooting, but made no mention of legislation or specific action.

"In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens—from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators—in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," the president said.

Critics say the Obama administration hasn't done enough to combat gun violence. Carney responded to that criticism Monday by saying the president has supported an assault weapons ban and that the administration has "taken steps" to improve background checks, "but as you heard the president say last night, we all need to do more."

When pressed by ABC News' Jake Tapper to name specific legislation pushed by the administration, Carney cited "actions" on background checks and again stressed that more action needs to be taken.

The Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which resulted in 28 dead, including the gunman and his mother, has prompted lawmakers, special interest groups and others to call for a substantive response.

Following the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., in July, several Democratic lawmakers pushed legislation to outlaw the sale of high-capacity gun magazines. At the time, Sen. Dianne Feinstein  (D-Calif.) was one of the voices cautioning against wading into gun control during an election year. "It's a bad time to embrace a new subject," Feinstein said.

On Sunday, Feinstein pledged to introduce next year a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. "I think America is ready. They're going to have an opportunity with this bill," Feinstein said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York have both restated their opposition to assault weapons following Friday's massacre.

Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy said at a press briefing Monday in Hartford, Conn., that he supports hunters' rights and gun owners' rights but "this stuff has gone too far and is too easy to own." He noted his past support for the Brady Bill and assault weapons ban.

Gun control supporter New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is calling on the president to circumvent Congress and enact gun control action by executive order—though that cannot modify a law.

Calls to review gun policies in the wake of the shooting have not been limited to gun control supporters.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, an "A"-rated member of the NRA, told reporters at the state Capitol Monday that "the status quo is not acceptable anymore" and called for restrictions on assault weapons, according to reports.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, another "A"-rated member of the NRA, on Monday questioned the availability of assault weapons, saying on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," "I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don't know anybody that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about."

Sorrow for the victims and their families remained ever-present in Washington Monday as lawmakers spoke of the shooting and used it to broadly call for action.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared on the floor Monday that the "healing process" required Congress to "examine what can be done to prevent" similar tragedies in the future. "We have no greater responsibility than keeping our most vulnerable and most precious resource—our children—safe," the Nevada lawmaker said. "And every idea should be on the table as we discuss how best to do just that.

"In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow," Reid continued.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also spoke about the tragedy, which he said "stands out for its awfulness," but did not hint at any legislative response. "The murder of so many little children and the adults who tried to save them doesn't just break our hearts, it shatters them," the Kentucky lawmaker said.

Olivier Knox contributed to this report.

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