Obama to lay out gun policy first steps after Newtown tragedy

Posted at 10:58 AM, Dec 19, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-19 10:58:51-05

By Dana Ford

(CNN) — With the shock and horror from Newtown giving way to anger and calls for action, President Barack Obama will announce his first concrete steps Wednesday in addressing the raging debate about gun policy.

Obama plans to announce that Vice President Joe Biden will lead an inter-agency process to develop policy in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school massacre.

White House aides say Obama won’t announce major policy decisions Wednesday, but he will outline his administration’s path forward.

“These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change,” Obama told a packed auditorium at Newtown High School on Sunday.

“No single law, no set of laws, can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction,” he said.

Obama vowed: “In the coming weeks, I will 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. Because what choice do we have?”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has said she will introduce legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president supports that effort.

The “complex problem” also calls for “engaging mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, educators, parents and communities” to find solutions, he said.

Obama also wants to close “the so-called gun show loophole which allows people to buy weapons without going through the background checks that are standard when you purchase ” them retail, Carney said.

Meanwhile, heartbreaking funerals continue in Newtown. Those being buried Wednesday include several more students and a beloved teacher.

They are among the 27 people killed when gunman Adam Lanza shot his mother four times in the head before shooting his way into into Sandy Hook Elementary, opening fire on staff and students no older than 7. Lanza then killed himself.

The question of what prompted the rampage continues to elude investigators.

So far, they have been unable to retrieve data from a computer in Lanza’s home, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.

The gunman apparently smashed the computer and extensively damaged the hard drive, the official said, adding that the FBI is assisting Connecticut State Police.

Authorities have said the shooter took three of his mother’s weapons — two handguns and a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle — to the elementary school.

The National Rifle Association commented Tuesday for the first time since the massacre, saying it was shocked and heartbroken by the tragedy. The group is planning to hold a news conference on Friday.

“Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting,” it said. “The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”

Gun debate intensifies

While the NRA has been largely quiet, the national debate over guns is reaching a new high — some calling for stricter control, others for more access.

“In the state of Texas, with our concealed handgun license, if you have been duly backgrounded and trained and you are a concealed handgun license carrying individual, you should be able to carry your handgun anywhere in this state,” Gov. Rick Perry said Monday at a tea party event. He later added that he was referring to public property.

Meanwhile, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation that would have allowed those licensed and trained to carry concealed pistols in schools and other public places, his office said Tuesday.

Citizens across the country are also weighing in, particularly on social media.

Bill Mingin’s gun lay under the floorboards of his attic for 40 years, he said in an iReport.

“I thought I needed it ‘just in case,'” the New Jersey man said.

But after the Newtown massacre, he thought of selling it — but didn’t want it ending up in “the hands of a bad person.”

“So I smashed it with a sledge hammer, and threw it in the river. No one will ever be hurt with this deadly toy. Let’s get rid of the guns. Let it start with mine.”

Others say future tragedies can be avoided by arming teachers.

A bill introduced in the South Carolina legislature Tuesday would allow school employees with concealed weapons licenses to carry guns at schools. The bill would require those workers to be certified as marksmen and use only breakable bullets to avoid ricochets.

The debate has also sparked fierce dialogue at times.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said if more guns had been at Sandy Hook Elementary School, most victims would be alive.

“Since we have concealed carry laws in all of our country now, people can get a concealed firearm. And yet we have laws that say not in schools,” Pratt said. “And so in the very places that have been sought out by monsters such as the murderer of these adults and children, we’re saying, ‘No, we don’t want you to be able to defend yourself.’ It’s better that you just sit there and wait to be killed. And we find that morally incomprehensible.”

CNN’s Piers Morgan questioned whether more guns are the answer in a country with more than 300 million non-military firearms. He also challenged Pratt on the issue of high-power assault rifles.

“Post what happened at Sandy Hook, your answer to this problem of repeated use of this weapon with these high-capacity magazines is to continue letting Americans buy them with impunity, and to not concern yourself with these mass shootings, is that right,” Morgan asked.

“The 2nd Amendment means what it says, and meanwhile, you want to continue laws against self-defense,” Pratt responded.

A long series of final goodbyes

Back in Newtown, bereaved family members buried loved ones.

Victoria “Vicki” Soto, a first-grade teacher who tried to shield her students from bullets, was among them Wednesday.

A police honor guard saluted her casket as bagpipers played outside the Lordship Community Church in Stratford, Connecticut. The church set up more than 100 chairs outside the building to accommodate the overflow of people paying their respects.

“She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself, and especially children,” her mother Donna has said of Soto. “She loved them more than life, and she would definitely put herself in front of them any day.”

Soto, 27, wanted to be a teacher since she was 3 years old.

She “instinctively went into action when a monster came into her classroom and tried to protect the kids that she loved so much,” cousin James Wiltsie said. “We just want the public to know that Vicki was a hero.”

Seven-year-old Daniel Barden’s “fearless” pursuit of happiness earned him ripped jeans, his family said.

Taking after his musician dad, Daniel formed a band with his brother and sister, playing the drums.

“He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world,” Daniel’s family said.

Caroline Previdi’s relatives also will say their final goodbyes Wednesday.

Even after her death, 6-year-old Caroline continued to touch the lives of others. A Facebook page called “RIP Caroline Previdi — Sandy Hook Massacre Victim” had more than 5,400 “likes” on Wednesday morning.

Charlotte Bacon was another 6-year-old whose life was cut far too short. Charlotte, a beaming bundle of energy under bright red curls, also will be buried Wednesday.

The black hearses with caskets will continue driving though Newtown for days to come.

CNN’s Jessica Yellin, Dave Alsup, Susan Candiotti, Sandra Endo and Daphne Sashin contributed to this report.