Sombre one month milestone since deadly US school massacre

NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AFP) - A still-grieving Newtown, Connecticut marked the one-month milestone on Monday since a gunman massacred 20 school children here, a tragedy that has given new impulse to efforts to fight rampant US gun violence.

America has seen a flurry of initiatives in the weeks since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown - an unthinkable blood-letting even by the standards of a nation growing all too accustomed to such horrors. The 20-year old shooter, Adam Lanza, wielded a semi-automatic military assault-style rifle, provoking debate on gun control and a promise from President Barack Obama to back a bill outlawing such weapons.

Obama told a press conference on Monday that his administration would unveil proposals this week based on recommendations from Vice-President Joe Biden who conducted a thorough look at policy in the wake of the Newtown shooting.

"My starting point is not to worry about the politics, my starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works," Mr Obama said. "What should we be doing to make sure that our children are safe and that hear reducing the incidence of gun violence," he said.

Parents in Newtown said they too were in the process of devising ways to combat senseless gun violence, even as the community continues to grieve following the Dec14 shooting rampage that also claimed the lives of six adults.

"I don't know yet what these changes are. I come with no preconceived agenda. I do believe there's no quick fix single action, but instead a multitude of interlinked actions that are needed," said Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was among the six- and seven-year olds who perished in Newtown.

"I have had the honour to meet people from similar events in Aurora, Columbine and Virginia Tech, and hope they can teach us ways to help heal our families in town," Ms Hockley said, referring to other US mass shootings.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chair of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns group, opened a two-day summit of gun policy experts on combating gun violence at John Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Mr Bloomberg, a leading advocate for greater gun control, called for improved vetting into the backgrounds of those purchasing firearms as being central to any reforms.

"There's really no debate here, it's common sense," the New York mayor said.

"We have laws on the books that require background checks when dealers sell guns, it's time for the president and congress to make that the law of the land for all sales," he said.

Last week, the nation marked the two-year anniversary of the shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.

Ms Giffords and her husband, retired US astronaut Mark Kelly, announced the creation of a new anti-gun violence lobby group to counter the clout wielded by the National Rifle Association, America's main gun lobby.

Leaders of the National Rifle Association - always quick to point out that the "right to bear arms" is enshrined in the US Constitution - signalled they were girding for a fierce battle they are convinced they will win.

"I would say that the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get an assault weapons ban through this Congress," NRA President David Keene told CNN television on Sunday.

Mr Keene said his organization had enough backing from lawmakers to defeat a plan to outlaw assault weapons and sales of high-capacity ammunition clips.

Mr Biden met an NRA representative along with other gun rights groups last week as part of his gun policy review, as well as with victim support groups, and mental health and law enforcement specialists.

He has hinted that the White House is considering universal background checks for gun purchasers and a limit on the availability of high-capacity ammunition clips, either through new laws or executive orders issued by Mr Obama.

Some gun control advocates also are pressing for improved medical and emotional support for the mentally ill, and urged ways to ensure that deadly weapons don't find their way into their hands.

The children who survived the massacre earlier this month resume their academic year in the nearby town of Monroe, where a disused middle school has been converted and renamed from its original Chalk Hill to Sandy Hook.

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