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Obama holds White House talks on how to respond to Newtown massacre

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney answers questions from reporters during a media briefing at the White House in Washington December 17
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney answers questions from reporters during a media briefing at the White House in Washington December 17

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A day after President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea for changes to prevent another gun-fueled massacre in the United States, the White House on Monday declined to lay out details of what he planned to do or how he planned to do it.

But Obama did hold talks with Vice President Joe Biden and three Cabinet members in what a White House official said was an effort to "begin looking at ways the country can respond to the tragedy in Newtown."

The official said Obama had discussions with White House senior staff as well as Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

At a memorial service on Sunday for the victims of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school Obama made an emotional pledge to launch an effort to reduce violence by engaging law enforcement agencies, mental health professionals, parents and educators.

He did not specifically mention gun control or gun enthusiasts, however. After tragic shootings in the past, the president has called for changes in some laws.

But there has been little political will on both sides of the partisan divide in Washington to try to increase regulation of firearms.

The White House on Monday declined to flesh out Obama's pledge.

"I don't have a specific timeline for you for what the president will do moving forward," spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing. "I would simply refer you to his remarks last night when he talked about the action he hoped to take to engage the American people ... in the coming weeks."

Carney declined to comment on a proposal by independent Senator Joe Lieberman calling for a commission on violence to be set up.

Despite reiterating Obama's support for a renewal of a ban on assault weapons, Carney also declined to say specifically whether the president would back and help push a proposal that Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said she would put forward next year to reinstate the ban.

"I'm not going to engage in specific point-by-point policy proposals or prescriptions, but the president, as you know, has long supported reinstating the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004," Carney said. "As the president has said ... this is a complex problem that requires complex and a variety of solutions."

Carney did say that gun control - a divisive issue in the United States - was part but not all of the answer to address violence after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

"I think it's part of it but it's far from all of it," he said.

Despite not having to run for re-election, tackling guns remains a tricky issue for Obama, who has other policy priorities including immigration reform and deficit reduction in his second term.

(additional reporting by Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alistair Bell, Mohammad Zargham and Jackie Frank)

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