December 16th, 2012
05:32 PM ET
10 years ago

Gun debate gains traction as some lawmakers say it’s time to act

(CNN) - Lawmakers tend to stay quiet in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings, hoping to avoid attempts to politicize such tragedy.

But two days after the attack that took the lives of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, lawmakers were eager to take on the gun debate Sunday - with many saying a tipping point had finally been reached to pass stricter laws.

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Another group of voices, however, argued that if Friday's tragedy proved anything, it was a need for more guns in the hands of people as a means for self-defense.

The renewed attention on gun-control laws comes as President Barack Obama visits Newtown, Connecticut, Sunday. In a tearful statement Friday, the president said, "We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years" and called for "meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics."

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama supported reinstating the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, but has yet to make it a top priority since taking office. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday that it remains a commitment on Obama's second-term agenda.

In Congress, multiple gun control bills have been introduced in recent years, but not a single one has advanced to a floor vote.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said Sunday the president will soon have legislation "to lead on," announcing she will introduce a bill next month to place a ban on assault weapons.

"The purpose of this bill is to get...'weapons of war' off the street of our cities," Feinstein said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The senator added she'll introduce the bill when Congress reconvenes in January and the same legislation will also be proposed in the House of Representatives. It's modeled after the original assault-weapons ban that Feinstein helped champion in 1994. The ban, however, expired at the end of its 10-year term.

"We're crafting this one. It's being done with care. It'll be ready on the first day," she said, adding that she'll soon announce the House authors.

Fellow Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who worked on the House version of the assault weapons ban in 1994, said Washington has been "gridlocked" over the issue because "you have both sides off in a corner."

The New York senator said if pro-gun-control lawmakers can admit "there is a constitutional right to bear arms" and if anti-gun-control lawmakers can admit that "every amendment should have some balance and some limitation," then both sides can meet in the middle.

"Maybe we can make some real progress instead of each side being off in their corner, one side saying ban guns, get rid of guns, and the other side saying don't you touch anything about guns," Schumer said.

Connecticut has some of the strictest assault-weapons laws in the country, but Gov. Dan Malloy said Sunday that the lack of similar laws at the federal level makes it difficult to keep such weapons out of the state.

He said manufacturers can use "descriptive terms to try to get around the limitations that are built into our statutes" and added many guns found in the state had been tracked from gun shows in other parts of the country.

"One can only hope that we'll find a way to limit these weapons that really only have one purpose," Malloy, a Democrat, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's long called for more action on gun laws, said Sunday that tougher regulations should be Obama's "number one agenda" during his second term.

"It's so unbelievable. And it only happens in America. And it happens again and again," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"We kill people in schools. We kill them in hospitals. We kill them in religious organizations. We kill them when they're young. We kill them when they're old. And we've just got to stop this," Bloomberg said.

He's not the only one calling on the White House to act. More than 126,000 people have signed a petition since Friday asking for Obama "to produce legislation that limits access to guns."

The White House is required to respond after 25,000 signatures, and so far, the newly created web document has more signatories than any of the 154 petitions listed on the White House's website.

While several Democratic lawmakers made their voices heard Sunday, Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert said the deadly Connecticut school shooting could have been halted sooner if staff at the school had been equipped with guns.

"I wish to God (the principal) had had an M4 in her office, locked up, so when she heard gunfire she pulls it out … and takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," the Republican from Texas said on "Fox News Sunday."

Gohmert argued that as the country takes on a conversation about gun rights, people must be "open-minded." He said emotional reactions will naturally lead to a desire to "get rid of all guns," but he said that "you (should) use your head and look at the facts."

"Every mass killing of more than three people in recent history has been in a place where guns were prohibited, except for one," he said, arguing for looser gun laws so more people can be armed for self-protection. "They know no one will be armed."

Another Republican, former Education Secretary William Bennett, made a similar argument, saying the political debate should be put on hold while emotions are still high.

"The whole nation is mourning. It's an important moment. Let the tears dry before we head off into all these directions at once," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Bennett also agreed with the idea that schools should have a gun.

"I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," he said. "It would have to be someone who's trained, someone who's responsible, but my God, if you can prevent this kind of thing."

Polls have shown that the public remains divided on the gun laws. A CNN/ORC International survey conducted in August – shortly after the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting and another one at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin - found that 50% of Americans favor no restrictions or only minor restrictions on owning guns, while 48% support major restrictions or a complete ban on gun ownership by individuals except police and other authorized personnel.

Those numbers are identical to where they were in 2011, and the number who support major restrictions or a complete ban has remained in the 48%-to-50% range for more than a decade.

Though their differing opinions in the debate may be sharp, Republican and Democratic politicians all agreed on one thing Sunday: No single piece of legislation will be able to stop the violence completely. As long as there's a will and an unstable mind, there's a way, they said.

Malloy illustrated that point, telling CNN the gunman in Friday's shooting literally "shot his way into the building," breaking past the school's security system.

But retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said on Fox that "the stronger our gun-control laws are, the fewer acts of violence - including mass violence - will happen in our society." He also called to restore the assault weapons ban and proposed the start of a "national commission on mass violence," telling reporters Sunday at a Newtown vigil that it would look at "violence in the entertainment culture, mental health services and, of course, gun laws."

Others also emphasized a need to boost mental health programs in the country. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, who was intimately involved in the aftermath of the Aurora movie theater shooting, said Colorado has spent almost $20 million in new programs to support those dealing with mental illness.

"That's something we can do immediately without getting into some of the battles of gun legalization or restricting access to guns," he said on CNN, though acknowledging some gun laws need to be tweaked.

In particular, he said the debate should focus on access to high-capacity magazines. His support for tougher laws in the state marks a change in policy for the governor, who earlier this year said stricter gun laws would not have helped.

Still, Hickenlooper argued the "country is based on the Second Amendment."

"My grandfather taught me how to shoot and clean a 12-gauge shotgun and showed me how to hunt, and I've showed my son," he said. "That tradition is very powerful throughout this country."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah said he legally owns a shotgun and a Glock, but he's "not the person you need to worry about."

"There are millions of Americans who deal with this properly. It's our Second Amendment right to do so," the Republican congressman said on ABC's "This Week." "But we have to look at the mental health access that these people have."

While a debate over gun rights quickly sparked after the Aurora tragedy, it wasn't long before the conversation began to fade, as a presidential election squarely focused on the economy soon dominated national dialogue.

But Sen.-elect Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Americans should not expect the newly resurfaced debate to go away anytime soon.

"Frankly the tipping point should have happened a long time ago, but if this is the tipping point, then we're going to go down to Washington and prompt a conversation that's long overdue," Murphy, a Democrat, told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Sitting next to fellow Democrat Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Murphy recalled a certain plea that the elected officials encountered earlier Sunday in Newtown.

"A young man grabbed us in a church this morning, sobbing, and said 'Don't let his happen again.'"

- CNN's Paul Steinhauser, Brianna Keilar and Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.

soundoff (143 Responses)
  1. BlackThought

    Doug you clearly don't know history there were no gun confiscations in Nazi Germany or the USSR. Read the German weapons act of 1938 Germany had guns when Hitler was in power. As for the USSR marksmenship contests and hunting was very common in Russia. That's why the Soviets were able to field such large numbers of snipers. And China never had large numbers of privatly owned firearms. The average peseant was to poor to buy one. And if you think anything you own can go up against the US army you are delusional.

    December 17, 2012 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  2. Curt

    Its not rocket science. There is a major problem with gun violence in the U.S. that does not exist in other so-called developed countries. Maybe its time to come up with a solution. I'am sure the founding fathers did not intend the second ammendment to mean that the future citizens should have an obsession with guns. The right to bear arms is actually an old British term meaning the people have the right to have arms to form a militia to protect themselves against foreign invaders. Do incidents happen in countries with gun control, of course but you can't ignore the fact that U.S. per capita has one of the highest rates of gun violence. Maybe its time to study what other countries do like make people take a course before they can own a firearm, different licences for different types of firearms, some firearms totally prohibited and that weapons when not in use have to be stored and secured and the ammuniton stored seperately. You see its possible to give people the right to have a weapon and maybe with stricter rules 20 innocent 6-7 yr.olds would be alive today.

    December 17, 2012 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. Randall Shutt

    @BlackThought: Is it really about *need*? I don't know why anybody would *need* a SUV, but people buy them anyway... And guess what, they can be significantly more dangerous in a collision with a smaller car than if everyone drove a smaller car.

    I'm also not entirely sure you "get" the concept of a magazine. It's basically a spring loaded box that pushes rounds up into the chamber when there's not already a round (or the bolt) preventing it from doing so. They are trivial to make if you have any skill whatsoever working with either metal or plastic. If a high capacity magazine were 'illegal', then there'd very quickly be a black market for them either homemade, military surplus, or imported from other nations where they weren't illegal.

    December 17, 2012 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  4. Doug

    German Jews and other oppressed people, Soviet people who were murdered had no realistic way to defend themselves and also the same with the murdered people Chinese groups. Not to mention Cubans, Venezuelan people, Iranians, Iraqis, etc....

    There are more armed citizens in this country than military and police who would be willing to attack the citizens.

    December 17, 2012 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  5. randy

    It is time to abolish the 2nd amendment but this is going to be America's toughest war yet. We are gonna to have to give up many freedoms to keep people safe but i am 100% for it. Banning guns is not going to alleviate the problem as gun owners are like drug addicts. There are an estimated 300 million registered guns in America i should know i own 2 that registered and 10 that are not. So, it is safe to assume there are well over 300 million guns out on the streets. The only solution is to also write in legislation that effectively abolishes the 2nd amendment and also the 4th amendment. Why you ask? This will allow the police and the military to search every home in America if necessary and will get rid of at least 90% of weapons in the U.S. also this legislation will help law enforcement fight the war on drugs as anybody can be searched at anytime for any reason including person,car,house,etc. These are things that must be done to make sure future generations can live free happy prosperous lives.

    December 17, 2012 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  6. ghost

    Informed, you are wrong. Guns are not tools of social engineering. They are tools to fire projectiles at a high velocity. More to the point, guns were created for one purpose. To kill. To argue anything else is to look for justification for your own viewpoint.

    We banne drugs and folks continue to buy and sell drugs. Are you as adamant about getting rid of drug laws? Better yet, let's get rid of dui laws as well. Because neither alcohol or cars kill people either.

    We are a violent people. Because of that, not in spite of it, we have laws. We as a people decide which laws to make, keep and get rid of. Basing those decisions on what the public will and will not conform to has only happened once as far as i can tell. That was the ending of prohibition. But doing so in this situation is akin to saying that since some people will not comply that it is pointless. That is not true by a long shot. Those laws allow police to arrest would be criminals if caught with weapons. Does it prevent them all? No more than dui laws catch every drunk driver. But if we can take one criminal and gun off the streets, intelligent folk would view that as a win.

    December 17, 2012 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  7. ghostriter

    Do you nutcases really believe you can do as much damage with a knife as with a gun? There is a reason why folks with swords, spears, arrows and the like lost to something as simple as a musket. Firing a round a minute at best. So comparing a knife to a gun is stupid. But par for the course for our less than intelligent friends.

    December 17, 2012 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  8. btlprod

    The murderer broke multiple "Gun Control" laws before he fired the first shot at the school. How is another law going to help?

    December 17, 2012 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  9. DC Observer

    California public school teachers own more than a 6% stake in the maker of .223 Bushmaster rifles, like the one used last Friday to murder 20 first graders and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut. The California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) committed to invest a whopping $500 million into a $7.5 billion Cerberus fund that has helped bankroll Freedom Group, the maker of the weapon and other firearms. Just sayiung ......

    December 17, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  10. m1k3

    A handgun is planned homicide.

    There is no sport in moving your finger 1/4 inch.

    Guns are useless; by the FBI Uniform Crime Reports your chance of using a gun in defense is 1/20,000 if you carry it 100 years.

    The old West was drunks shooting drunks (Isabella Bird, A Ladys Life in the Rocky Mountains).

    The second amendment theory of personal gun right is a pile of bull whacky, and will disappear in the mist of which it is made as the Supreme Court changes.

    10,000 homicides per yer (FBI UCR, 8,000 gun homicides, and almost none defensive; what they where is people shooting people they know or are related to.

    December 17, 2012 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  11. 2AShallNotBeInfringed

    The Second Amendment is clear. The right to keep and bear arms Shall not be Infringed. Once you start limiting rights, no matter which it is, The first, Second, third etc etc it becomes all to easy to continue limiting those rights. This Amendment was not created to preserve hunting. It was not created to defend against criminals. It was created as the last defense against Tyranny. The Second Amendment is to protect you from the Government.

    Additionally, banning guns does not prevent violent crimes. Criminals will continue to own guns regardless of whatever laws are passed. Gun Control only harms lawful citizens. There are plenty of Countries which follow the model of banning guns and they have some of the highest violent crime rates in the world.

    December 17, 2012 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  12. 2AShallNotBeInfringed

    Additionally, The Second Amendment should not be moderated at a Federal Level, since its very existence is to be a check and balance upon the Federal Government.

    December 17, 2012 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  13. Seaturtle 123

    Ok, so teachers need to teach not just the Core Curriculum Standards, control behavior, counsel students but be careful not to endorse "unpopular" moral views of the community, stop bullying, teach manners, bend to parental pressure to award good grades, and spend endless hours away bfrom their own families because you can't handle your kids. want them to play Jesse James in that school setting by having the teachers and administrators carry GUNS! HELLO!!!! Our duty includes teaching your children and ours how to negotiate and compromise...not shoot and kill!! Shame on all of you cardcarrying NRA assault weapons enthusiasts.

    December 17, 2012 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  14. Bruce

    Why have both the NRA and the Republican senators and house reps who support the American penchant for guns become suddenly so silent? Seems they're real heroes when it comes time to stand up and be counted, huh? Gotta love these folks who lead from the rear!

    December 17, 2012 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  15. btlprod

    This Criminal broke multiple "Gun Control" laws before the first round was fired at the school. How is another law going to help?

    December 17, 2012 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  16. Tiffaniesa

    How about we ban people who thinking banning assault weapons will do any good. I use mines for target practice as a form of a hobby. Thousands of people do the same as I do. We should ban smoking since that kills thousands more. And no Im not hating on smokers

    December 18, 2012 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  17. Logan Ditzler

    The first ammendment isnt for going up against the army, actually its to support the army, because in the even that there would be some kind of coup by the president or even a rebellion, there would be armed forces factions supporting civilians.

    December 18, 2012 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  18. Logan Ditzler

    I meant second ammendment sorry

    December 18, 2012 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
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