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Last week's elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was not the first massacre of recent years. It wasn't even the first massacre of this year, nor was it the first in which children were among the victims.
GREENE: But the killing of six and seven-year-olds in Connecticut has transfixed the country in ways the other shootings did not. One question now is whether the attack will prompt any changes in American laws or policies relating to gun violence.
INSKEEP: President Obama has instructed Vice President Biden to lead an effort to develop recommendations for change within the next month.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama is hoping to seize on public anguish over the Connecticut school shootings to make gun violence a front-burner issue in Washington. At a White House news conference yesterday, Mr. Obama made clear it's not just the headline-grabbing mass murders he's worried about.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Since Friday morning, a police officer was gunned down in Memphis, leaving four children without their mother. Two officers were killed outside a grocery store in Topeka. A woman was shot and killed inside a Las Vegas casino. Three people were shot inside an Alabama hospital. A four-year-old was caught in a drive-by in Missouri and taken off life support just yesterday.
HORSLEY: The president urged Congress to take swift action - requiring background checks on all gun purchases. Only federally licensed dealers are required to conduct background checks now, and that leaves out about 40 percent of gun sales. Mr. Obama also wants a renewed ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, like those used in the Sandy Hook shootings.
Those are among the recommendations of a coalition on gun violence, led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Tom Menino. In the past, the group has criticized Mr. Obama for not being more aggressive. But coalition director Mark Glaze had high praise for the president's comments yesterday.
MARK GLAZE: I think this has been a wake-up call for the president, for the country, and I very much hope for Congress, which has a significant part of the blame for not doing more. There is enormous common ground. The president just staked it out and we're going to do everything we can to help him get to where we need to be.
HORSLEY: The president says he'll need all the help he can get, from concerned parents, pastors, police and others.
The National Rifle Association is expected to weigh in tomorrow for the first time on the Connecticut shootings. Mr. Obama says he thinks most responsible gun owners would like to do more to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.
OBAMA: The NRA is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers. And I would expect that they've been impacted by this as well. And hopefully they'll do some self-reflection.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama sees ample room for additional gun control, while still respecting Second Amendment rights. But gun control is only part of his agenda. He says the policy review, led by Vice President Biden, will be comprehensive.
OBAMA: We're going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun. We're going to need to look most closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence. And any actions we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.
HORSLEY: The president is also hoping for a change of heart on fiscal matters here in Washington, as the clock ticks closer to the year-end fiscal cliff. Earlier this week, Mr. Obama appeared to be working towards a deal with House Speaker John Boehner to avoid the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes. But Boehner broke off talks on Tuesday, saying the president's latest proposal is unbalanced.
The House speaker is now pursuing an alternative he calls Plan B. The House is expected to vote on that today but it stands little chance in the Senate, and even if it did pass, the White House has threatened a veto.
Mr. Obama argues that a bigger compromise is still possible. He says that's what the American people are looking for.
OBAMA: They understand that they're not going to get 100 percent of what they want. And for some reason, that message has not yet taken up on Capitol Hill. And when you think about what we've gone through over the last couple of months - a devastating hurricane, and now one of the worst tragedies in our memory - the country deserves folks to be willing to compromise on behalf of the greater good.
HORSLEY: Yesterday the Fitch Bond Rating Agency warned that unless lawmakers and the White House agree on a deal, Fitch's Triple-A rating for the U.S. government could be in jeopardy.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.