Newtown school shootings spur new calls for gun control

Washington — Even before the details of the horrific Newtown school shooting were known Friday, calls were being made for tougher gun control.

President Obama touched off calls for a new debate on guns in his tearful statement of condolences Friday to the families of the 20 children and six adults who were killed by Adam Lanza, identified as the gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“As a country, we have been through this too many times,” Obama said. “And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

The president made the remarks in the “Brady Room,” named for Jim Brady, a White House press secretary who was nearly killed and permanently disabled as a result of an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life in 1981.

“Obama’s statements were stronger than they had been in the past,” said Jonathan Lowy, an attorney at the Brady Center, a gun control group established by Jim Brady. “This is more than he has said after other prominent mass shootings.”

But to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a strong gun-control advocate, the president’s comments are not enough.

“President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., was among a group of Democratic lawmakers who said Friday there must be new efforts to put more restrictions on guns.

“We must immediately get to work to end these senseless, mass killings of innocent Americans,” said Van Hollen, who said he plans to raise the issue when Congress returns next week.

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, issued a statement Saturday that said “to do nothing in the face of continuous assaults on our children is to be complicit in those assaults.”

Larson said Congress must immediately vote to close loopholes to background checks for gun purchasers and to ban assault weapons and high capacity clips.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, also called for action.

“I hope and pray that the flood of sympathy and condolences offered to the victims and survivors of this unspeakable crime will ignite the dedication and ingenuity of our nation to end this scourge of violence,” he said in a statement.

Toughening gun laws may not have prevented Lanza from committing the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It appears the guns he used were purchased legally by his mother. But Larson and others are calling for a new debate on the role of guns in American lives, saying other lives could be saved with tighter controls on the ownership of guns.

The last time Congress approved a new gun law was in 2007, after a gunman at Virginia Tech killed 32 people, then fatally shot himself as police closed in.

The 2007 legislation required that background checks of gun buyers include mental health information and more comprehensive criminal records.

But most mass killings don’t result in new gun legislation. Lowy of the Brady Center said maybe it shouldn’t, that lawmakers should take a more comprehensive approach to laws relating to gun ownership.

“I don’t think you should fall into the trap of fixing the problem that just occurred,” he said. “We should have a broader conversation about who is allowed to get guns, how they can get guns and what type of guns do they get.”

The gunman at Virginia Tech was mentally ill, but was able to obtain a gun. That was also the case with Jared Loughner in the 2011 Tucson, Ariz., shootings in which Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others were injured or killed.

Lowy said a loophole in the background check law could be to blame. He said the only checks on mental health records that occur now are those of individuals who are involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or sent there through a court order.

But the National Rifle Association, the strongest and most effective lobby against gun control, said no new laws are needed, only better enforcement of existing ones.

NRA headquarters in northern Virginia shut down its switchboard Friday and did not return emails for comment. There was no mention of the Sandy Hook shootings on its website Saturday.