As residents of Newtown, Connecticut, buried more victims of the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden convened a White House task force to search for ways to quell gun violence in the United States.
With funerals for a half-dozen victims on Thursday, services have now been held for more than half of the 27 people shot and killed last Friday by a heavily armed, 20-year-old man who attacked an elementary school with an assault rifle.
Hundreds of mourners packed into a funeral for Benjamin Wheeler, 6, filing into the gray stone Trinity Episcopal Church past two rows of Boy Scouts who lined up outside as a flag-bearing honor guard.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy called for residents of his state to observe a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, a week after the shootings, and his fellow governors from Maine to Kansas followed suit.
The rampage, in which 28 people died, including 20 children and the gunman, has sparked new discussion on tightening gun laws, a thorny political issue in the United States, which has a strong culture of individual gun ownership.
Biden brought together cabinet members, police officials and others in a 90-minute first meeting of the new White House task force charged by President Barack Obama with drawing up a plan to tackle gun violence in the United States.
“We have to have a comprehensive way in which to respond to the mass murder of our children that we saw in Connecticut,” Biden told the group, which included Attorney General Eric Holder, Thomas Nee, president of the National Association of Police Organizations, and other officials.
“The president is absolutely committed to keeping the promise that he will act,” said Biden, who as a senator authored a crime bill in 1994 that included a temporary ban on assault weapons.
Holder was scheduled to meet privately in Newtown with law enforcement officials investigating the massacre.
WAITING ON THE NRA
The National Rifle Association, the powerful firearms lobby that has long resisted any effort to restrict gun ownership, said this week that it would offer “meaningful contributions” to prevent future such massacres at an event in Washington on Friday.
The group, which kept silent for five days after the shooting, plans to continue its media push over the weekend with its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, due to appear on the NBC’s television talk show “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, formerly Obama’s chief of staff, worried publicly that the NRA would not break its past patterns.
“I fully expect the NRA to do exactly what they always do,” Emanuel said at Chicago City Hall, where he called for a ban on assault weapons of the kind used in the Newtown killings.
“I expect the Washington gun lobby and the gun lobbies around to do exactly what they always do, which is to try to apply political pressure so you ignore the overwhelming public opinion.”
In Newtown, a few dozen residents met at the town library on Wednesday night to discuss ways they could influence the national debate. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal told the group it was time for a “seismic change” in gun policies.
“This horrific tragedy has changed America, in the way that it is ready to stop the spread of gun violence,” he said.
The shooter, Adam Lanza, used guns that were legally purchased and registered to his mother Nancy, his first victim in Friday’s attack.
A funeral home outside Connecticut planned to claim her body, The New Haven Register reported, citing Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver II.
Democrats in Congress who favor gun control have called for quick votes on measures to ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, hoping that the slaying of the 6- and 7-year olds in Newtown might be a tipping point to win over more lawmakers.
The backlash against guns has not been limited to lawmakers. Retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc took down an website about Bushmaster rifles, the sort used in the attack. Dick’s Sporting Goods pulled all guns from its store closest to the massacre in Newtown, about 80 miles northeast of New York City.
Newtown schools, with the exception of Sandy Hook Elementary, the site of the shooting, re-opened to students on Tuesday. On Thursday, school officials said Friday, the last day before the Christmas break, would be a shortened day.
Reflecting a heightened state of alert at schools across the United States, a school district near Boise, Idaho, canceled planned assemblies at a number of its 50 schools after receiving a rash of threats that suggested “something bad” would happen on Friday, Meridian school district spokesman Eric Exline said.
Exline said the school system was working with police to respond to trouble, if needed. “The event last Friday in Connecticut has unnerved people in a lot of ways,” he said.
Authorities in Phoenix said a 16-year-old girl was arrested on Thursday after making online threats to kill herself and other students at a suburban high school.
Sergeant Brandon Jones, a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said the girl, a student at Red Mountain High School, admitted to making the threat on a YouTube channel. It was not clear whether the teen had the means to act on the threat.
Authorities said part of the post read: “I now literally have a plan of seriously hurting … killing … murdering people in my high school. And a playlist to do it.”