Washington — Following the White House’s lead, Connecticut’s lawmakers and other gun control advocates in Congress are trying to enlist Americans, including firearm owners, to help them blunt the political might of the gun lobby.
“This is not just our battle, it’s America’s battle,” said U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat who represents Newtown.
At a press conference Thursday to introduce new gun legislation in the Senate, Esty said families of Newtown victims and others from the town will help in Democratic gun-control efforts.
Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, also helped introduce the bill, which would outlaw 158 specific types of firearms and any magazine cartridge the holds more than 10 rounds.
“This measure would ban these kinds of weapons that have been so destructive and so brutal in creating violence,” Blumenthal said. “This measure is more stringent than Connecticut’s ban and would have prohibited the type of weapon that was used in Newtown.”
Continuing the grass-roots strategy, Rep. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, said “We can only do what the American people let us do.”
Durbin also said “we need responsible hunters and sportsmen to step up.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chief sponsor of the bill, said “[Americans] are stronger than the gun lobby.”
“Call every member of the House and every member of the Senate and tell them you’ve had enough,” Feinstein said.
A group of law enforcement officials who have long sought a ban on assault weapons stood behind the press conference speakers. Victim’s of mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo., also spoke in support of the bill.
Newtown’s tragedy was invoked by every lawmaker, especially Blumenthal and Murphy who gave first-person accounts of the massacre and the sorrow it produced in the Connecticut town.
“Kids would be alive today in Newtown if the law we introduce today were in effect on Dec. 14,” Murphy said.
Blumenthal said “Newtown is a call for action and a call for real reform.”
The bill’s supporters also made a difference between “bad guns” — such as military style assault weapons — and “good guns” like the rifles used by hunters or handguns used by other Americans to defend their shops and homes.
They insisted their legislation would limit the right to bear arms in a reasonable manner.
“We know that there is no inalienable right to own 100-round clips and assault rifles,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
But the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups oppose any efforts to tighten gun controls. The group reacted to the new gun legislation by attacking Feinstein.
“It’s disappointing but not surprising that she is once again focused on curtailing the Constitution instead of prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental health system,” an NRA statement said. “The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein’s wrong-headed approach.”
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., whose husband was killed and son badly wounded by an armed assailant on the Long Island Railroad, will introduce similar legislation in the House. She’s sponsored renewals of the assault weapons ban since it expired in 2004.
“I thought for sure after Virginia Tech we would get something done… Aurora.. but something happened in Newtown, people in America said ‘how can we let this happen to our children?’”
But it will be an uphill battle to win approval of comprehensive gun control in Congress, although a high-capacity magazine ban stands a better chance.
The Senate is controlled by Democrats, but not enough of them to stop a filibuster. And some Democrats, including Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, are gun rights proponents who face tough re-elections in 2014.
The House is controlled by Republicans, most of them supporters of the NRA, and has gun-right Democratic members as well.
“Will it be hard?” asked Schumer. “For sure.”