White House readies gun-control plan

By Peter Rudegeair and Edith Honan, Reuters

Posted at Dec 20 2012 11:00 PM | Updated as of Dec 21 2012 07:00 AM

NEWTOWN - The White House revealed the first steps of a gun-control plan on Wednesday as the United States grieved for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in another wave of funerals.

President Barack Obama's initiative addressed national outrage over the shootings in Connecticut, which have prompted longtime gun-rights supporters to reconsider their positions and a major private equity firm to put its gunmaking business up for sale.

The funerals scheduled for Wednesday included those of four children, a teacher and the principal of the school stormed by 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza on Friday. After killing his mother at home, Lanza drove to the school and used a semi-automatic assault rifle to kill 20 children and six women.

Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead an effort to craft policies to reduce gun violence. Specific steps Biden recommends will be unveiled in Obama's State of the Union address, which is typically given towards the end of January, bu t Obama indicated some priorities.

"We're going to need making access to mental health at least as easy as access to a gun," Obama told reporters.

He said he hoped the powerful gun-industry lobby, the National Rifle Association, would reflect on the tragedy as it anticipates Biden's recommendations.

"The vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war," Obama said.

Biden's leadership of the task force was applauded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time gun control advocate, who urged immediate steps such as appointing a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a federal crackdown on illegal gun purchases, and the lifting a federal gag order that keeps the public in the dark about gun traffickers.

"The task force must move quickly with its work, as 34 Americans will be murdered with guns every day that passes without common sense reforms to our laws," Bloomberg said in a statement.

The massacre of so many children in Connecticut, all of whom were just 6 or 7 years old, shocked the United States and the world and renewed debate over gun control in a nation where the right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution and fiercely defended by many.

Around the globe, newspaper editorials from the Philippines to South Africa urged U.S. gun-control efforts and said they were long overdue.

"It takes no great deductive genius to understand the link: a violent individual with a gun will be more able to kill, and can kill more people, than a violent individual without a gun. Elsewhere in the world, tighter gun laws have been shown to save lives," said an editorial in the Indian newspaper, The Hindu.

After the shooting spree at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, Lanza killed himself.

At the funeral of teacher Victoria Soto, 27, a cavalcade of 30 police motorcycles from surrounding towns led the hearse carrying her body to the service in Stratford, Connecticut. About 200 mourners lined the streets outside the church, including a mother and daughter from Maryland who never met Soto but made the long drive because they were touched by her bravery in trying to protect the children in her class.

The family of the school's slain principal, Dawn Hochsprung, invited mourners to visit at a local funeral home on Wednesday afternoon, though her burial was due to be private at an undisclosed time.

After the service for Daniel Barden, 7, a bagpiper played "America the Beautiful," as hundreds of police officers and firefighters, some from New York City and distant towns, stood in formation outside. The little boy loved his family, riding waves at the beach, playing drums, foosball, reading, and making s'mores around a bonfire at his grandfather's house, said an obituary in the Newtown Bee newspaper.

Funerals also were scheduled for Charlotte Bacon and Caroline Previdi, both 6, and Chase Kowalski, 7.

Across the nation, Americans joined Newtown's grieving, one woman traveling from Iowa to bake and deliver apple pies to residents, another woman from outside Albany, New York, posting daily to Facebook the latest of 26 watercolor flower paintings she is creating, each with a different victim's name.

"I wanted to memorialize the victims," said artist Pamela Hollinde, 60, of Delmar, New York, who is also a substitute teacher at an elementary school. "In a way, it's therapy for me too. I'm having a difficult time. Our students are our kids too."

While most students in Newtown were back at school on Wednesday, the surviving children from Sandy Hook Elementary will not resume classes until January and at a different location, the unused Chalk Hill School in nearby Monroe.

The impact of the shooting was felt in the business world on Tuesday when private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP said it would sell its investment in the company that makes the AR-15-type Bushmaster rifle that was used by Lanza.

The NRA gun lobby broke its silence on Tuesday for the first time since the shootings, saying it was "prepared to offer meaningful contributions" to prevent such massacres. A news conference was called for Friday.

The massacre prompted some Republican lawmakers to open the door to a national debate about gun control, a small sign of easing in Washington's entrenched reluctance to seriously consider new federal restrictions.