December 16th, 2012
05:32 PM ET
9 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. GOP = Greed Over People

    CNN, those photos of little Noah have me batting back tears, and I have no children. I cannot begin to imagine how his loved ones must feel over this terrible loss.

    He is beyond precious in the photo where he wearing the red shirt!

    Prayers and comforting wishes to his family.

    December 16, 2012 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  2. Marc Florida

    No argument for sensible gun laws but the elephant in the room is the undermining of this nations mental health services. It started with the deinstitutionalization of mental health patients and the massive underfunding of state mental hospitals. Many closed along with state receptions centers. If elected officials want to get serious about addressing these terrible tradgedies they must add to their concerns the adequate funding of State Mental Hospitals, and reception centers. The seriously deranged can then be safely housed and removed from the community.

    December 16, 2012 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  3. futureman

    An assault weapons ban will be toothless unless all existing assault rifles including pistols that use clips are deemed llegal and will be turned in.. Shotguns, single shot rifles and pistols will be allowed ...The gunnies and the gun shop pimps will not want to give up the war weapons so we are going to have to take them by force ...This will be civil war and the gunnes wlll be the confederates....Let's Roll!

    December 16, 2012 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  4. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    Let's FEEL our way to more gun laws...

    Perhaps there should be a BIG Hollywood social pollution tax !!!

    December 16, 2012 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  5. IdahoMan

    Time to act?

    By all mean. You can start by repealing the Federal Gun Free School Zones Act. On a state-level, "Constitutional Carry" is being passed.

    December 16, 2012 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  6. livingasahuman

    What are you going to do when myself and 50 million others refuse to give up our guns?

    December 16, 2012 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  7. 82ndairborne1968

    There is no "tipping point" for people like Cong. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). Children could be killed in events like Newtown every week, and Gohmert would still be in favor of arming everyone – everywhere. His argument is not intelligent, like most of the remarks he has made in the past.

    December 16, 2012 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  8. Greg

    This shooting should up the pressure on Obama to liberalize concealed carry for all citizens, especially teachers. It should also up the pressure on Obama to find out if the 25 vaccinations each child receives by the time they are 5 years old are really necessary or just a bonanza for big pharma; and if there is, as many suspect, a connection to Asperger or Autism. Since boys are routinely prescribed SSRI's like Ritalin to control their natural behavior, and because so many of these shootings seem to involve young men who took Ritalin or similar SSRIs, maybe Obama can investigate this. Perhaps he may want to look into the impact of violent computer games on developing minds of our boys. At my son's magnet school, the ratio of female to male teachers is about 20:1, so there are few male role models except for the janitor crew; why not study the impact of feminism on young boys?

    Finally, let's keep things in perspective – each year over 52,000 children die. That's over 1,000 per week (not including abortion – which liberals support). The leading cause is prenatal conditions – how about a working on that first? Gunshots are so low on the list; they don't even appear in the top 100 causes. Obama's fake tears don't impress me, this is a man who has killed more innocent children with drones than Dick Cheney or George Bush could have dreamed of – he has no tears for those children. Based on news accounts, he appears to condone the war crime of 'double-tapping' – that's when we kill a group of people, and hover around the carnage for a few minutes for their rescuers (parents and relatives) to appear before we hit the rescuers with another drone attack. Our Founders knew that we would need guns – not for hunting 'wabbits' but for defending our Constitution against tyrants – this is precisely why even automatic weapons with big clips are Constitutional. Connecticut has among the strictest gun control laws in the nation, did it work? Why don't these crimes happen in Israel, where even female teachers are required to be trained and armed with weapons?

    December 16, 2012 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  9. k

    Illinois and Mexico have some of the toughest gun control laws in existence. Chicago's murder count is over 435 and climbing this year. The Mexican drug gangs murder at will. Gun control laws are not the right answer as obviously criminals don't obey the law. Duh! Criminals will still obtain guns and do terrible things with them, even if you outlaw assault rifles. Only then they will have many more potential unarmed victims to choose from. Our disintegrating society and morals are to blame, not mechanical objects. We need to focus our efforts on people, not just firearms.

    December 16, 2012 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  10. john

    It's just like the weak and scared sheep to let the government do exerything for them. Have you ever thought about personal responsibility. How about the toughest gun laws in the country in Chicago that also has among the highest violent crime. DC is down in violent crime as gun laws are relaxed. Our constitution was never meant to give the federal government total control over our lives quite the opposit. Strong state govt. with limited federal govt

    One again for th 47% and the uneducated.GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE PEOPLE DO!!

    A simple multiple choice question may help.

    On a cold dark night as your family sleeps you hear a door open or the creek of the wooden floor from an intruder. Just before they enter your childrens room you can "A" " dial 911 then yell stop and go out to stop them without a gun because they are illegal and you and your family end up dead as the police arrive 10 minutes later. OR "B" Grab your Glock from your safe under the bead insert the 15 round magazine and empty the entire chamber hoping to hit him more than the one child last Friday that was hit 11 times. Grab your family and thank GOD for your safety and the wisdom of our forfathers for the 2nd ammentment. Serious responses only. Must make a cogent response

    December 16, 2012 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  11. InDaGila

    These horrible things will continue to take place unless those so bent upon making free men serfs understand that instead of Phoney Presidential tears, they need to work WITH the NRA and lawful shooters. These situations can be drasticly curtailed by dealing with mental health issues and by vigorous enforcement of existing law. And by doing the following. Enact stingent manditory, no mercy sentencing for: Using any gun in any crime, stealing a gun, being in possession of a stolen gun, lying on Federal fire arms forms. In short put gun criminals in jail for a very long time. Such action would make criminals flee guns like socialist liberal Democrats flee real discussion of the issue. The NRA and shooters everywhere will back and endorse such real "common sence laws". We won't see it though, just more of the same, make us all targets liberal BS. Because it isn't about saftey folks, it's about control. And that is why we have the second ammendment! "When seconds count, the police are but minutes away".

    December 16, 2012 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  12. Jeremy B

    I dont understand the delay.Ban all military assault weapons,revoke all permits.There is no excuse for anybody other then military or law enforcement to control such destructive weapons.Let some good start to come from this or sit on your behinds and do nothing but debate mentall illness and gun control after the fact.Even worse wait for the next horrific act of rage.People are to complex,unpredictable,mental illness or not.Its the human condition.Get it? Point in case,aman walks into a school in i think i heard in china the other day with only a knife,slashed 22 people,thankfully no deaths.You out there and i know that the outcome would have been alot different if he was firing a Bush Master.Case made.Protect our children.Dont make this a political debate.Thankyou

    December 16, 2012 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  13. Gurgyl

    Pass gun-control laws. Period. Obama signs.

    December 16, 2012 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  14. B.

    The time has come for us all to take seriously the trends that we have suffered from now.
    Having to make fortresses of our elementary schools is a national disgrace and way beyond what I ever would have thought possible. This country has become a travesty of complacency and abuse of traditional Morality and Justice.

    We have state Governors impinging voters rights that people have given their lives to maintain. Mindless abuse of Women’s rights, Obscene marketplace greed, intentional destruction of the middle class, and worst of all now, complete abdication of responsibility and controls of deadly weapons sales and oversight!

    This outrage is continuing in frequency and numbers and we ask WHY? Because we apparently do not have the national will to actually do something to change it because of a culture of Sick madness for guns in this country beyond any other on the planet!

    The president was weeping during the latest reoccurrence of Mass Murder. Mr. President, lets stop the tears and and speeches and DO Something about this National Travesty NOW.
    People keep asking WHY, we know why, it is all about – Gun Access- and no accountability of the Gun industry and the NRA as the agent of this debacle. They are complicit with these acts by criminal disregard for every attempt to fix this broken system.

    This will keep happening until this President and the nearly worthless Congress forgets Politics,money, and reelections to get it done..

    December 16, 2012 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  15. Al Black

    In this time of tragedy, as we recoil in horror from the senseless murder of innocent children, it is perhaps to early to have a sensible discussion about gun control, but it is now clear that the right to bear weapons is firmly in Obama's sights. Perhaps we should instead consider banning the "violent lifelike video battle games" that this young man and other killer kids from Columbine and other school massacres trained themselves to be ruthless killers with? And perhaps we should arm and train school teachers so they can protect themselves and the little ones in their care. At the moment Schools are a model of what a gun-control world would be like: unarmed civilians massacred by armed criminals, a world where only the criminals go armed. If criminals can import or manufacture illegal drugs, they can easily import or manufacture illegal weapons. In Australia we have gun control, but there are drive-by shootings and armed robberies every weekend. It has been shown not to work, except to disarm honest citizens. Better by far to arm and train those teachers courageous enough to put themselves in harm's way to protect the children in their care.

    December 16, 2012 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  16. Grieving

    So far in 2012, 271 Americans have been killed in combat in Afghanistan.
    Chicago, In the same time period, has had 436 murders. Chicago has some of the most stringent gun control laws in the United States.

    December 16, 2012 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  17. nothing new here

    This nation spends billions on this stupid "war on drugs".
    This nation needs to start getting it's priorities straight.
    Instead of forcing the taxpayers to pay for incarcerations for marijuana, the Federal government could be using that money to provide security for schools, as well as various public places.
    But it is more important for the fat cats of our society to keep getting fatter, while the rest of us face higher taxes next year.

    December 16, 2012 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  18. kirk

    Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive."
    –Noah Webster,

    December 16, 2012 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  19. Mark R.

    If she (or they) think this will stop these types of events from happening, they are sadly mistaking. All they will do is push the black market sales of those types of weapons into high gear. Criminals don't care about the laws or what is allowed. This is foolish talk from a foolish Senator. Anyone who sides with her (they) is foolish, if they think this will stop. Just this past week, a Chinese man killed 20 kids with a KNIFE... What is next, them banding knifes. Look, people will find a way to kill people PERIOD! It maybe a gun, a knife, a pipe bomb, or poison. Instead of trying to pass idiotic laws that won't work, why don't they pass laws that make those targets safer. Armed security guards; check in points with passes; instant door locks that one teacher can activate for the whole school at once with safe zones that can be done for those outside of the rooms. Remember your freedoms and freedom does NOT come cheap! Being armed is a way to insure those freedoms stay there. Once you start to give up your rights, they will keep chipping away at them thinking it is ok to.... REMEMBER, WE HIRE THE LAWMAKERS AND THEY WILL NOT DO WHAT WE DO NOT WANT THEM TO!!!

    December 16, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  20. tom

    85,000,000 registered gun owners in America did not murder anyone yesterday.

    December 16, 2012 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  21. kdmiller45

    Always someone trying to take my right to bare arms, WHO the heck ever said we should have the right for fully automatic weapons, I agree no one but the military and police, and in case we have some people out there that seem to think there were assault weapons used in this very painful moment and some crazy punk, they were not used 2 hand guns were used

    December 16, 2012 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  22. Faxon

    I'm glad I did all my purchasing when BO was elected four years ago. ALL my purchasing.

    December 16, 2012 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  23. Steven Plank

    I'm glad the gun control debate is back on – long over due. As a legacy to the 20 beautiful children and their 6 brave teachers we need a complete and permanent ban on assault rifles, automatic and semi-automatic weapons in the hands of civilians – only police and military should have these type of guns that are designed only for war zones – they have no place at all in modern society. As for proposals for teachers or principals to be armed and guns in schools – total madness! More guns = more deaths, not less – we don't live in the wild west anymore! I hope President Obama and Washington law makers are listening – less guns in society and stricter control on ownership on any gun is needed.

    December 16, 2012 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  24. A citizen

    NRA is the devil. Excusing murder is sin.

    December 16, 2012 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  25. Rod

    Republicans and gun lobbyists are keen to deflect a backlash by using 'this isn't a time for politics' rhetoric. Have a read of apologise.org for a satirical take on the gun lobbyists' view on gun control.

    December 16, 2012 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
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