Obama Commissions Panel To Curb Gun Violence

Barack Obama has commissioned a new panel tasked with developing proposals to curb gun violence, saying the country has a "deep obligation" to prevent events similar to Friday's massacre in Connecticut.

"If there is even one thing we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation - all of us - to try," Mr Obama said.

Vice President Joe Biden - a longtime gun control advocate - will head up the panel, from which Mr Obama expects "concrete proposals" no later than January.

"This is not some Washington commission," he said. "This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read then pushed aside.

"This is a team that has a very specific task to put together real reforms right now."

Mr Obama said he plans to push through the proposed reforms as soon as the panel completes its work.

"I will use all the powers of this office to help prevent tragedies like this," the president said at the White House on Wednesday, less than a week after 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on a killing spree inside Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Twenty children and six adults were killed by Lanza, who earlier shot dead his mother Nancy at the home they shared, and then killed himself at the school as police closed in.

Police say Lanza had hundreds of rounds of ammunition at his disposal as he conducted his shooting rampage with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

The new panel will explore possible new gun legislation to rein in the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, but will also look at mental health policies and violence in popular culture.

The massacre has re-ignited the debate over gun control in the US, with some calling for a clampdown on firearms.

During a Google Hangout debate moderated by Sky News' Greg Milam on Wednesday, participants from across America voiced their disparate views on the future of gun control.

Connecticut resident Cheryl Rice said a reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 should not be considered a violation of the Second Amendment that gives Americans the right to bear arms. 

Dave Powell of West Virginia agreed, saying that hunting rifles and the like should suffice for self protection. 

Mr Powell called the American infatuation with handguns and automatic weapons "a national insanity". 

But Rosa Linda Roman, a New Mexico mother and gun owner, rejected the idea of being told what kind of gun she could use to protect her family.

"I feel and I've learned, living up here, that it's not just my right to defend my family but it's actually my responsibility", she said.

Mr Obama said this week he is backing a new bill to reintroduce the expired assault weapon ban. 

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president is "actively supportive" of an attempt by California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein to write the bill early next year.

Meanwhile, the other Democratic senator from California, Barbara Boxer, introduced new legislation on Wednesday that would allow state's to seek reimbursement from the federal government if they choose to use National Guard troops to watch over schools.

"This legislation will help state and local officials protect our children by utilising all of the law enforcement tools at our disposal," Sen Boxer said in a statement.

Mr Obama has also telephoned pro-gun Senator Joe Manchin, who has shifted his position on firearms laws since Friday's carnage in Connecticut.

Mr Manchin, along with fellow democrat Mark Warner, who have so-called "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association, said the Newtown massacre has convinced them the time for reform has come.

The NRA broke its silence over the Sandy Hook school massacre on Tuesday, saying its members were "shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders".

The group pledged "to help to make sure this never happens again" and has scheduled a news conference for Friday.

On Monday, 75 activists demonstrated outside the NRA's headquarters in Washington DC.

"More than anyone else, the NRA is responsible for the more than 12,000 people murdered by guns every year in this country," said Josh Nelson, the campaign manager for the progressive Credo Action group that organised the protest.

"We call on the NRA's lobbyists to stand down and allow Congress to pass common-sense gun laws."