Armoured backpacks and a rush on guns

JULIE PACE
Last updated 08:06 20/12/2012

US President Barack Obama taps Vice President Joe Biden to lead the effort to come up with proposals to address gun violence no later than January.

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Anxious parents are driving up sales of armoured backpacks for children in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting.

Sales on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, like the ones used by the shooter last week to kill 26 people at an elementary school, are also flying off gun store shelves. Firearms enthusiasts are stocking up because they fear potential gun control measures.

US President Barack Obama tasked his administration early today (NZ time) with creating concrete proposals to reduce gun violence that has plagued the country.

Colorado set a single-day record for gun background check requests the day after the Connecticut mass shootings, and some online retailers are removing assault rifles from websites in part because of diminishing supplies.

In Utah, a manufacturer reports a spike in sales of armoured backpacks designed to shield children caught in a shooting.

Obama, who set a January deadline for the recommendations, said: "This time, the words need to lead to action."

Obama tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading the effort and vowed to push for implementation of the policy proposals without delay.

The president, who exerted little political capital on gun control despite a series of mass shootings in his first term, bristled at suggestions that he had been silent on the issue during his first four years in office. But he acknowledged that the Friday's deadly shooting had been "a wake-up call for all of us."

Twenty children and six adults were killed when a man carrying a military-style rifle stormed Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, Friday morning.

The president also called on Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and to pass legislation that would close the gun show "loophole," which allows people to purchase firearms from private dealers without a background check. Obama also said he wanted Congress to pursue the possibility of limiting high-capacity ammunition clips.

"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 president's announcement underscores the urgency the White House sees in formulating a response to the Newtown shooting. The massacre has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms, and there is some concern that their willingness to engage could fade as the shock and sorrow over the Newtown 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.

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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 yesterday, 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."

- AP

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