12/17/2012 04:11 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2012

On Gun Violence, Obama Has No 'Specific Agenda,' White House Says

WASHINGTON -- A day after President Barack Obama made an impassioned speech to the nation about now being the time to address the epidemic of gun violence, the White House, for now, is ducking specifics on what exactly Obama plans to do.

During his daily briefing Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney avoided one question after another about the types of legislative proposals the president could support, what kind of timeline he wants to take action within and whether he truly plans to make the issue of gun violence a priority, despite the fact that in four years -- and four shooting massacres later -- the only related bill Obama has signed actually expanded gun laws.

"I don't have a specific agenda to announce to you today," Carney said when asked how Obama plans to translate his Sunday speech into action. "No single piece of legislation, no single action will fully address the problem."

Pressed specifically on whether Obama views gun control as key to reducing gun violence, Carney said that is "part of" the solution, "but far from all of it."

Obama's track record on gun control, and more generally on responding to gun violence, is thin. The White House regularly points out that Obama supports reinstating the expired assault weapons ban, but in four years the president has done nothing to make that a priority. The Justice Department has taken some steps to improve background checks on prospective gun purchasers -- and the administration is quick to point that out whenever the issue of gun control comes up -- but in terms of bold initiatives relating to gun violence, there are none.

The first three shooting massacres that happened on Obama's watch -- the November 2009 attack in Ft. Hood, Texas, the January 2011 attack in Tucson, Ariz. and the July 2012 attack in Aurora, Colo. -- each showed the nation a president quick to console but reluctant to take action. But the latest horror in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children were gunned down in their classrooms along with six adults, appears to be a turning point for Obama, if not the nation. During his remarks in Newtown at a Sunday night vigil, Obama made some of most direct comments to date on the need to take gun violence seriously -- and, for the first time, signaled he may do something about it.

"In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," Obama said. "Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

So far, though, the White House won't explain what Obama means by vowing to take action. Carney spoke mostly in platitudes when asked for specifics, even as members of his own party are now floating ideas for action. Carney wouldn't say whether Obama backs an idea by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to create a presidential task force on violence, nor would he say whether the president supports Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in her vow to reintroduce and push a new assault weapons ban on the first day of the next Congress in January. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) also plans to introduce legislation in the next Congress to ban the sale of high-capacity magazines, his office told The Huffington Post on Monday.

"I'm not going to engage in specific policy points and prescriptions," Carney said.

The White House won't be able to avoid specifics for too long as momentum appears to be shifting in favor of action, in different ways. A Washington Post poll released Monday found that a slim majority of Americans see the Newtown shootings as a sign of broader societal problems, versus just an isolated incident. A gun control petition posted on the White House website on Friday has collected more than 150,000 signatures since it was posted, which makes it the most popular issue on the site since the White House "We The People" website initiative launched last year.

Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a long-time supporter of gun rights, said Monday that the Newtown massacre shows that something has to be done to address gun violence.

"All ideas should be on the table," Reid said on the Senate floor.

UPDATE 7:18 p.m. -- Obama met with senior staff and Cabinet officials Monday to discuss how Washington can respond to the Newtown shootings, Buzzfeed later reported.

A White House official said Obama met with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretary of Health and Human Service Kathleen Sebelius, as well as senior advisers.

This is a developing story and has been updated.


Obama Speaks At Sandy Hook Vigil
Obama Speaks At Sandy Hook Vigil