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Biden to Head Gun-Control Effort

President Barack Obama announces the creation of an interagency task force for guns as as Vice President Joseph Biden listens on.
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President Barack Obama announces the creation of an interagency task force for guns as as Vice President Joseph Biden listens on.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead an effort to draft policies to reduce gun violence, a call to action after the massacre of 26 people, including 20 children, at a Connecticut elementary school.

"This time, the words need to lead to action," Obama said in his announcement, urging Congress to take action early next year.

The president has vowed to use "whatever power this office holds" to safeguard the nation's children after Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six adults were killed at the school by a gunman carrying an arsenal of ammunition and a high-powered, military-style rifle. The gunman also killed his mother before killing himself.

The White House sees some urgency in formulating a policy response to the shooting, even as Obama and his top aides are consumed with averting the "fiscal cliff" before tax hikes and spending cuts take effect in January. The rampage has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there is some fear that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown shooting eases. (Read More: Time for Tougher Gun Laws: Sen. Manchin, NRA Supporter.)

Biden's prominent role in the process could be an asset for the White House in getting gun legislation through Congress. The vice president spent decades in the Senate and has been called on by Obama before to use his long-standing relationships with lawmakers to build support for White House measures.

Many pro-gun lawmakers also have called for a greater focus on mental health issues and the impact of violent entertainment. White House aides say stricter gun laws alone are not the answer.

"It's a complex problem that requires more than one solution," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. "It calls for not only re-examining our gun laws and how well we enforce them, but also for engaging mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, educators, parents and communities to find those solutions."

Still, much of the immediate focus after the shooting is on gun control, an issue that has been dormant in Washington for years. Obama expended little political capital on gun issues during his first term, despite several mass shootings, including a movie theater attack in Aurora, Colo., in the midst of this year's presidential campaign. (Read More: Gunman Kills 12 at Batman Premiere.)

The White House has begun to signal that Obama may be more proactive on gun issues following the murders of the elementary school youngsters, ages 6 and 7.

Carney said Obama was "actively supportive" of legislation to reinstate a ban on assault-style weapons that expired in 2004. The president long has supported a ban, but exerted little effort to get it passed during his first term. Obama also would support closing a gun show loophole allowing people to buy arms from private dealers without background checks and would be interested in legislation limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines, Carney said.

The policy process will include input from the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. The heads of those agencies met with Obama at the White House on Monday.

The Department of Homeland Security is also expected to play a key role.

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