President Barack Obama on Wednesday asked an administration team to offer "concrete proposals" on curbing gun violence no later than January, in an urgent effort to build on the growing political consensus over gun restrictions following last week's massacre of children at a Connecticut school.
"This time, the words need to lead to action," Obama said. He said he will push legislation "without delay" and urged Congress to hold votes on the bill next year.
"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Obama said. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence."
The gunman in Friday's shooting in Newtown, Conn., wielded a semi-automatic rifle to kill 20 young children and six adults at the school, after killing his mother at home. He then killed himself.
Obama, who pushed little on gun control during his first term, pressed Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. He also called for stricter background checks for people who seek to purchase weapons and limited high-capacity clips.
Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate with decades of experience in the Senate, will lead a team that will include members of Obama's administration and outside groups.
In the days since the shooting, Obama has vowed to use "whatever power this office holds" to safeguard the nation's children. Funerals for the victims continued Wednesday, along with the wake for the school's beloved principal.
The shooting has prompted several congressional gun-rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there are concerns in the administration and elsewhere that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the shooting eases.
Obama said it was "encouraging" to see people of different backgrounds and political affiliations coming to an understanding that the country has an obligation to prevent such violence.
Appealing to gun owners, Obama said he believes in the Second Amendment and the country's strong tradition of gun ownership. And he said "the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible."
"I am also betting that the majority, 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.
Obama also tasked the Biden-led team with considering ways to improve mental health resources and address ways to create a culture that doesn't promote violence. The departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, along with outside groups and lawmakers, will all be part of the process.
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.
The president challenged the National Rifle Association, the country's most powerful gun lobby and key backer of many Republican politicians, to join the broader effort to reduce gun violence as well.
"Hopefully they'll do some self-reflection," Obama said of the NRA.
The NRA made its first comments since the shooting on Tuesday, promising to offer "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
Obama said that while taking the necessary steps to reduce gun violence would take commitment and compromise, he said it could be achieved if Washington summons "even one tiny iota of the courage of those teachers, that principal in Newtown summoned on Friday."