The No. 2 Senate Democrat called today for restrictions on military-style assault weapons as pressure built for new limits on gun sales.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois said individual possession of assault weapons should be banned, a day after Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said she’ll introduce legislation to restore a prohibition on assault-style weapons when the new Congress convenes in January.
Durbin told reporters today in East Alton, Illinois, that any discussion on banning assault weapons would include sportsmen and hunters.
“I want to protect their right to hunt, but that doesn’t include high capacity ammo clips and military assault weapons and body armor,” Durbin said. “For goodness sakes, that’s way beyond any Second Amendment right.”
Two Democratic U.S. senators that have been supported by gun-rights groups, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, responded to the killings at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school by saying they were willing to consider new gun-control measures.
“Every American has Second Amendment rights, the ability to hunt is part of our culture,” Warner told WTVR-TV in Richmond. “But, you know, enough is enough. I think most of us realize that there are ways to get to rational gun control.”
“I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle,” Manchin said today on MSNBC. “I don’t know anybody that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said today that his panel would hold hearings early next year on the shootings. “Congress can and should be part of this national discussion and search for answers,” the Vermont Democrat said.
On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said today that lawmakers would explore actions to take to avoid a repeat of the shootings in Connecticut and elsewhere.
“We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens,” Reid said. “We have no greater responsibility than keeping our most vulnerable and most precious resource -- our children -- safe. And every idea should be on the table as we discuss how best to do just that.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky made no comments about gun control or other legislation in his floor speech.
“We stand with the people of Newtown today and in the days ahead,” McConnell said. “We can do nothing to lessen their anguish, but we can let them know that we mourn with them, that we share a tiny part of their burden in our own hearts.”
Twenty children and six adults were shot to death on Dec. 14 by a man with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The suspect, Adam Lanza, 20, killed himself at the school with one of the two handguns he also was carrying. He shot his mother, Nancy, earlier at their nearby home, Connecticut state police said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, criticized President Barack Obama for failing to act on an assault-weapons ban and other firearm restrictions.
“It’s time for the president to stand up and lead,” Bloomberg said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “His job is not just to be well-meaning. His job is to perform and to protect the American public.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Twitter today that the assault-weapons ban should be renewed. Emanuel’s former boss, President Bill Clinton, signed the prohibition into law.
“President Clinton and I fought to pass the assault- weapons ban,” he said. “It’s time to renew and strengthen it. An easy vote.”
An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken after the Connecticut shootings showed 54 percent of respondents backing new limits on gun rights, with 43 percent opposed. When asked about banning ammunition clips that contain more than 10 bullets, 59 percent supported the idea, while 38 percent opposed it. In addition, 52 percent backed a ban on semiautomatic handguns, with 44 percent in opposition.
Obama, speaking yesterday at a memorial vigil in Newtown, said that while there is no single solution to the complex problem of violence in U.S. society, “that can’t be an excuse for inaction.” Without offering a prescription, he vowed to do everything in his power to begin the search for an answer.
“We can’t accept events like this as routine,” he said.
Bloomberg, co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, urged Congress to renew the 1994 ban on semi-automatic firearms that expired in 2004. He called for improved databases to trace gun ownership, stricter enforcement of gun trafficking and more laws to prevent sales to criminals.
“We don’t need people carrying guns in public places,” Bloomberg said on NBC. “That’s not what the founding fathers had in mind. Quite the contrary, it makes us have a much more dangerous society.”
It was the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting, after a 2007 rampage on the Blacksburg campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where 33 people died.
Lanza used his mother’s legally obtained guns, including an assault rifle, according to Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dan Malloy. Lanza “shot his way into the building,” Malloy said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “These are assault weapons. You don’t hunt deer with these things.”
The U.S. experienced at least seven mass murders -- the killings of at least four people in one incident -- this year. Those incidents claimed at least 65 lives.
“We could be at a tipping point,” Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “The public will not accept as a new normal one of these incidents every month.”
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who ran on a gun-control platform as Vice President Al Gore’s Democratic running mate in the 2000 presidential election, called for a national commission to examine gun laws, the nation’s mental health system and violence in video games and other entertainment.
During the 2000 campaign, Gore and Lieberman argued for “common-sense gun-safety measures,” a position that cost them rural votes and helped give a narrow victory to Republican George W. Bush.
Many Republicans and Democrats oppose gun regulation, citing the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Allowing more Americans to carry weapons is one way to limit casualties in mass shootings, said Representative Louis Gohmert, a Texas Republican.
He cited the “heroic stories” of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung trying, and failing, to protect her pupils.
“I wish to God she had had an M4 in her office, locked up, so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out,” Gohmert said on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “She didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”
A semi-automatic Bushmaster assault rifle, similar to the M4 carbine used by the U.S. military, was used in most of the school killings, according to Connecticut State Police.
“Every mass killing of more than three people in recent history has been in a place where guns were prohibited, except for one” Gohmert said. “They chose this place. They know no one will be armed.”
Feinstein sponsored the 1994 assault-weapons ban, which prohibited the sale of certain guns with high-capacity magazines that allow them to re-load automatically after being fired. Fully automatic weapons, which fire multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger, continue to be regulated under federal law. The Feinstein measure, which applied to firearms manufactured after the law’s enactment, expired in 2004.
Since then, Congress has enacted no major firearms regulations other than a law aimed at improving state reporting for federal background checks on gun purchasers.
The dearth of new gun laws reflects the political influence of the National Rifle Association, said Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law professor at University of Texas in Austin.
“The NRA has sufficient control over the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is, for good reason, scared stiff to go out on a limb on this issue,” Levinson said. “There is absolutely no chance whatsoever of bipartisan gun control legislation.”
The NRA declined to comment on the school shooting “until the facts are thoroughly known,” according to a statement released by its communications office.
To contact the reporters on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at firstname.lastname@example.org