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Gun violence task force begins work amid mourning in Connecticut

By Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 10:24 PM EST, Thu December 20, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We have to take action," Vice President Joe Biden says
  • Nancy Lanza is buried at an undisclosed location, a family friend says
  • Adam Lanza will be buried "if anything ... in the spring," he adds
  • Three 6-year-old victims are buried; bells will ring Friday in observance of one-week mark

(CNN) -- Much of the nation was set to mark the passage of a week since last Friday, when a young Connecticut man fatally shot 27 people -- 20 of them children -- and then turned a gun on himself in a rampage that has breathed new life into the gun-control movement.

Church bells are to toll across the region at 9:30 a.m. and some websites plan to go dark in honor of the victims at the urging of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ron Conway, who came up with the idea at a Christmas party attended by Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was wounded in a 2011 shooting that killed six.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have called for residents of their states to pause to reflect one week after the shooting rampage. Perry also asked that churches ring their bells 26 times in honor of the victims at the school.

The observances are to come a day after President Barack Obama's administration put into motion an effort to change U.S. gun laws, less than a week after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings.

Vice President Joe Biden met with Cabinet members and law enforcement leaders at the White House to start formulating what Obama called "real reforms right now" in the wake of the shootings that killed 27 people -- including 20 children -- and the shooter himself.

"We have to take action, and there are a number of things ... we can immediately do," Biden said moments before the meeting began. "For anything to get done, we're going to need your advocacy."

Also Thursday, burials were held for three children and two teachers killed when Adam Lanza opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"It's an assembly line of wakes and funerals," said Lillian Bittman, former chairwoman of the Newtown School Board. "We can't even figure out which ones to go to. There are so many."

The assembly line stretched more than 2,200 miles west to Ogden, Utah, the hometown of shooting victim Emilie Parker. The town was festooned with pink ribbons as her parents brought her body back for burial.

"This sucks -- there's no reason for us to be here tonight," her father, Robbie Parker, told friends and well-wishers at a memorial service Thursday night. "And I'm so thankful for everybody that's here."

His voice trailed off as he struggled for composure. Seeing the pink -- his slain daughter's favorite color -- made him and his wife, Alissa, "feel like we were getting a big hug from everybody."

"A lot of you don't even know who she is. A lot of you never even met her," he said. "And to see your love be expressed in that way for us was so meaningful, and we were so comforted."

Parker drew laughter when he said, "A lot of people have been asking how we're doing. My opinion is, we need to come with an alternate way to greet somebody in this country." He said the first days after the shooting felt like "we were mourning inside of a glass house, because there was so much attention on the whole situation, and it was really hard to deal with.

"But then, as we come here and we start to see and feel all your love, we just know that everybody's just deeply concerned and we can feel that love and it's from a pure place and your intentions are so pure, we don't feel like people are prying," he continued. "We understand that you guys are there with us and that your pain and your sorrow is real and it's deep."

Also buried Thursday, at an undisclosed location, was Nancy Lanza, the shooter's mother, said Donald Briggs, a friend of the family who grew up with her in Kingston, New Hampshire.

Plans had not been finalized for the burial of her son, Adam, who fatally shot her Friday at their home before targeting the Newtown school and eventually taking his own life. "That's still under discussion," Briggs said. "If anything, it would be in the spring."

Three 6-year-olds were among those buried Thursday: Allison Wyatt, who loved to draw and wanted to be an artist; Benjamin Wheeler, who loved the Beatles; and red-haired Catherine Hubbard, who loved animals.

Teachers Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau and Anne Marie Murphy were also to be buried.

Victims of the slaying

The deaths have prompted a national outpouring of sympathy that continued Thursday. Carloads of teenagers from a Minnesota school that suffered a mass shooting in 2005 headed toward Newtown to offer their support.

The bloodshed has prompted an outcry among many to address gun laws and violence.

A slight majority of Americans favor major restrictions on guns: 52%, up 5 points from a survey taken in August after the July shooting inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people died, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released Wednesday.

And 46% say they believe the government must play a role in solving the issue, up 13 points from January 2011, after the Tucson, Arizona, shooting that killed six and wounded Gabby Giffords, who was then a member of Congress.

Task force begins work

Joining Biden at Thursday's task force meeting on gun violence were Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Law enforcement officials also attended.

On Wednesday, Obama ordered the group to provide proposals by the end of January.

"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," he said. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence."

Obama highlighted suggestions to restrict gun sales to criminals and the mentally ill and to improve access to mental health care.

Holder was to travel later in the day to Connecticut to meet with law enforcement officials and first responders, a Justice Department official said.

Since the shootings, a number of conservative Democrats and some Republicans who have supported gun rights have said they are open to discussing the issue.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said she will introduce legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The White House has said that the president supports that effort.

More than 195,000 people have signed an online White House petition supporting new gun-control legislation.

The gun industry itself has been largely silent on the issue; the National Rifle Association said Tuesday it would offer "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again." The group has scheduled a news conference for Friday morning.

Gun control advocates say they believe the killings have so shocked the nation's conscience that change may be possible.

"I think that we are at a historic moment," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut.

Strengthening security

In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty made $10 million available to pay for security upgrades to establish a locked-door policy at 4,000 of the province's elementary schools.

"We're not going to brick up these windows; that would be unreasonable. But I believe there is a reasonable expectation by parents that when their kids go to elementary school in Ontario that we will have a locked-door policy in place," he said.

HLN journalist Rita Cosby and CNN's Matt Smith, Deborah Feyerick, Ben Brumfield, Jessica Yellin, Dave Alsup, Susan Candiotti, Sandra Endo, Faith Karimi and Daphne Sashin contributed to this report.

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