Gun advocates in Congress silent, cede ground after school tragedy

Washington — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, no friend to gun control, promised “in the coming days and weeks” to consider legislation that would tighten gun laws.

“Part of the healing process will require Congress to examine what could be done to prevent more tragedies…,” said Reid, D-Nev. in a Monday speech of condolences to the Newtown victims.

Reid has a favorable lifetime rating from the National Rifle Association and secured $61 million for a shooting park in his home state, which led the NRA to call him “a true champion” of the Second Amendment.

But Reid is facing a public outcry and growing number of calls for Congress to act on gun control legislation in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

“We need to accept the reality that we’re not doing enough to protect our citizens,” Reid said. “In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allows this violence to continue.”

Other gun right advocates in Congress Monday also seemed to have had a change of heart. Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia who has an “A” rating from the NRA, said the Newtown massacre has convinced him that there should be a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“I ask all of my colleagues to sit down with a seriousness of purpose to address the causes of these tragic crimes, including mental health treatment, military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and our culture, which seems to glorify violence more than ever in our video games and movies.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., another favorite of the NRA, said he believes every American has Second Amendment rights.

“But enough is enough,” Warner said.

Democratic lawmakers are lining up to introduce Newtown-related bills in the waning days of the lame duck Congress or at the beginning of the 113th Congress that will gavel in on Jan. 3.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she would reintroduce an assault weapons ban on the first day of the new Congress. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said he would introduce a high-capacity magazine ban that day if the legislation is not approved during the lame duck session.

“These high-capacity magazines, which were used in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and so many other tragedies, were designed for one purpose only — to shoot and kill quickly,” Lautenberg said.

Authorities have said that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza used an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday. Earlier that day, Lanza fatally shot his mother.

Assault weapons and high-capacity clips were banned by a comprehensive gun control law championed by former President Clinton and approved by Congress in 1996.

But the bans expired in 2004, and several efforts in Congress to reinstate them failed.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., whose husband was killed by a gunman on a Long Island Railroad car, plans to reintroduce a high-capacity magazine ban bill and another that would close loopholes in the federal law that requires background checks of gun buyers.

Members of the Connecticut congressional delegation are likely to co-sponsor some of these gun bills.

In addition, Sen. Joe Lieberman, plans to reintroduce, this week or next, a bill he sponsored in the wake of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School that would establish a commission to determine the causes of youth violence and the options for preventing it.

The Senate approved the legislation, but it was not considered in the House.

“Since I first proposed this commission in the wake of Columbine, mass violence has struck too often, and most recently in my home state of Connecticut,” Lieberman said. “Preventing such horrors from occurring again will require action that is informed by a sound understanding of the causes of the violence and a national consensus about how to proceed.”

Lieberman’s legislation called for a 16-member panel of teachers, counselors, clergy, law enforcement officers and others appointed by the president and House and Senate leaders. Among other things, the commission would investigate the availability of weapons to the nation’s youth and determine the impact of violent movies and video games on children.

While Lieberman and a number of Democrats are calling for action, congressional Republicans have been largely silent on the issue of gun control.