When shots rang out Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., it was inevitable that the gunfire would reverberate in Washington.
With other recent mass shootings, such as the Sikh temple massacre in Oak Creek, Wis., and the movie theater slayings in Aurora, Colo., talk of greater gun control efforts ballooned on the Hill, then deflated quickly as other headlines from the campaign to the fiscal cliff weighed in.
Now, gun-control proponents are hoping a newly emboldened President Obama fresh off re-election will lead a charge to push through any number of stricter laws.
Obama says he’s game for “change,” but is not quite elaborating on what that means.
Longtime proponents of gun control on Capitol Hill quickly jumped on the news to push their cause.
“Leaders in Washington from both parties, and groups like the NRA, all say that now is not the time to talk about how gun safety laws can save lives in America,” Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), who ran for Congress after her husband was killed in a 1993 mass shooting, said on Friday. “I agree, now is not the time to talk about gun laws – the time for that conversation was long before all those kids in Connecticut died today.”
“The Second Amendment is the law of the land but it was never intended to allow murderers to take the lives of innocent kids,” she added. “It’s our moral obligation as policymakers and as parents to do more to save lives.”
“We cannot tolerate mass shootings as a mere inconvenience or a normal part of our everyday lives,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). “Easy availability of the deadliest weapons to the most dangerous people has cost countless lives and caused immeasurable suffering, never more so than today.”
Retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Sunday suggested a “national commission on mass violence,” not lieu of “anything else the president or Congress or state governments want to do, but to make sure that the heartbreak and anger that we feel now is not dissipated over time or lost in legislative gridlock.”
And Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) penned an op-ed in this morning’s Chicago Tribune calling for “the majority of Americans, and the majority of thoughtful gun owners and hunters, to agree that there must be reasonable limits on gun ownership and weapons.”
“The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that our Second Amendment rights are not absolute. So can we come together and agree that Americans have a right to own and use firearms for sport and self-defense within certain limits?” Durbin wrote.
Before many of the facts are known in the fluid investigation of the Newtown shooting, in which Adam Lanza opened fire on 6- and 7-year-olds with guns reportedly taken from his just-slain mother, Democrats are basically resurrecting every recent nugget of gun-control efforts — which have little connection to the Connecticut case thus far.
Arguing that they’re addressing a phenomenon more than a single crime, lawmakers have cited the renewal of the assault weapons ban, prohibition on magazines carrying more than 10 rounds, limiting the purchase of firearms to two a month, requiring safety locks on guns within reach of children, eliminating gun-show loopholes, and keeping the mentally unstable from acquiring weapons.
There won’t be a lack of headlines from which gun-control proponents can draw to push specific tenets of legislation if they can’t zero in on Newtown. For example, George Zimmerman, standing trial in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, took Adderall for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and could be a prime starting point for debate about which psychiatric conditions could disqualify applicants from a gun permit.
The office of one House liberal told PJM today that they were waiting for specific facts about the Newtown case, then would “be able to look at the overall picture for gun violence as a whole along with mental issues.”
But that doesn’t mean some aren’t pushing forward while emotions are still high.
“As President Obama said last night, no one law can erase evil. No policy can prevent a determined madman from committing a senseless act of violence,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor today. “But we need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens.”
Republicans focused on the tragedy itself, even declining to deliver a traditional weekend address on Saturday out of respect for the victims.
“In a world that can at times be defined by its darkness, children are a reminder of what is good, cheerful and beautiful about life,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “An act of violence against these defenseless young people, as well as the faculty and staff who dedicate themselves daily to educating and caring for them, is a deed of unconscionable evil.”
“We have to deal with the mental health aspect. I think it’s fair game. I think we absolutely should talk about the intersection of a lethal weapon and it relates to — to mental health. Absolutely. We got to have that discussion in this country,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Sunday on ABC’s This Week.
“And we also have to deal with the new social ramifications of the bombardment and the immediacy of social interaction between violence, the realism that you find in games and movies. Some people, young people, as they’re making this transition from their teen years into adulthood, aren’t able to mentally make that transition. And there does need to be help,” Chaffetz continued. “But we’re also going to need to look to families and communities and churches. It’s not just a government solution.”
And even though Obama advocated unspecified change while speaking at the Newtown vigil Sunday night, spokesman Jay Carney today demurred about what concrete action might be coming.
“It’s a complex problem that will require a complex solution. No single piece of legislation, no single action will fully address the problem,” Carney said at today’s press briefing. “So I don’t have a specific agenda to announce to you today. I would simply point you to what the president said last night about moving forward in coming weeks. And I would look for him to do that.”
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers swarmed the airwaves with a gun-control message and sharper agenda.
“I think this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, to be very honest with you,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said today on PBS.
Feinstein was author of the assault weapons ban that was law for 10 years but hasn’t been renewed by Congress since its 2004 expiration. Multiple attempts at reauthorization over the years have been unsuccessful.
“I don’t see how Americans can want, you know, a situation where a 20-year-old gets a gun from his mother, kills his mother, goes into a school, shoots his way through the glass, goes in and puts three to 11 bullets in 6-year-olds, 20 of them,” she said. “…And I gather this particular Bushmaster, you can actually sort of dial down the ease with which you pull the trigger and its frequency. So you can just pump those bullets out in a very few seconds.”
Feinstein said she hadn’t yet had a chance to talk with Republicans to see if any have had a change of heart about helping her bill, but she did ring the White House to try for a call with Obama.
“I think the president now has an open mind,” she said. “…I want to work with members in this body, members in the other body, and try to see that, by the beginning of the year, we have got something where there is some very good support.”
She already has some backers in the House, with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) calling on the chamber to immediately pass a ban on all assault weapons and eliminate gun-show exemptions.
“This Congress must rise above partisan politics and now come together to pass these important gun safety laws,” Jackson Lee said. “The safety of America and its children should be at the forefront when it comes to making these gun safety laws. The politics of outside groups like the NRA should not play a factor when we consider the safety of our citizens.”
The National Rifle Association has been silent — both in its press shop and on social media — since the tragedy.
But one Democratic senator — and NRA member — advocated all-of-the-above gun-law discussions that include the gun lobby.
“I’m a proud member of the NRA and I’m a defender of the 2nd Amendment,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on CNN International today. “It’s more than just gun control they’re talking about. The NRA, first of all, needs to be at the table. They need to be sitting there and we need to be working through this and looking at what we can and should be doing in America.”
“The 2nd Amendment is very near and dear to us. And the people that are afraid, oh, now, if we start talking about this, you might take my 2nd Amendment rights away,” Manchin added. “Absolutely not.”