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WASHINGTON – Announcing his first steps in response to the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, President Obama on Wednesday charged a task force with drawing up a list of proposals to reduce gun violence across the nation and urged Congress to hold votes on gun-control legislation early in the new year.

Obama ordered the task force to return its recommendations “no later than January” and vowed to use the full force of his office to push for the proposals. Vice President Joe Biden will lead the group, which includes members of Obama’s Cabinet, representatives of pertinent interest groups, law-enforcement officials and gun-rights advocates.

“If there is even one thing we can do to prevent these events, we have a deep obligation to try,” Obama said in his announcement in the White House briefing room.

It was the fourth time the president has spoken about the mass slaying of 20 first-graders and six of their guardians in an elementary school last Friday in Newtown.

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The president made clear he is seeking to harness the public outrage at the shootings and will consider gun-control proposals that fellow Democrats have shelved over the years because of potential political consequences.

Obama defended the task force as a serious effort, “not some Washington commission.”

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

Obama emphasized that the task force would look beyond stiffer gun laws for solutions, including measures that address cultural influences and mental-health services.

He also repeated his position that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to bear arms and made an overture to gun owners.

But Obama stated his support for congressional efforts to revive a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, as well as a push to close a loophole that allows people to buy weapons at gun shows without background checks.

Obama urged Congress to hold votes on such measures “in a timely manner” in the new year. He also noted that Congress has not confirmed a nominee for director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives the past six years, and he urged lawmakers to act.

Asked by a reporter why he did not take action on gun violence in his first term, Obama responded that he had focused on other priorities.

“I’ve been president of the United States, dealing with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars. I don’t think I’ve been on vacation,” he said. “And so, you know, I think all of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington.”

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