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. AK_steve

    A failed shoe bomb led to the entire country having to take their shoes off to get on an airplane. Thirty school shootings let to nothing. Gun lobbyist are serving their own selfish interest and not the safety of children. Way to go NRA. Be sure to threaten all the Senators that dare vote in the interest of making our countries children safe.

    December 16, 2012 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  2. Whit

    The nation’s spirit has been awaken by this terrible event. Yes! This event requires a response unlike any since our founding fathers. The response needs to shake our individual consciences and the nation’s collective conscience. We as a civil society cannot allow the blood of our children to saturate the soil and rivers of our great nation. The spirit of those who have gone on before us and left us this beautiful nation is crying for those of us who live to awaken from our drunken dance with assault weapons. Their cry has echoed across America seven times this year, the hour is getting late. Awaken America and save the future generation from extermination at their hands and not the hands of some outside enemy.

    December 16, 2012 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  3. don in albuquerque

    The place is here,
    The time is NOW!!!!!!!!!!

    December 16, 2012 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  4. plain&simple

    Do we as a nation say " screw it ,It's just the way it is" and do nothing? Do we put the national guard at every school? Do we have all teachers trained on how to kill? How about arming all children with guns before going outside? How about we just change our country's name to War Zone!! OR we TRY to do something to make it better? To stand silent and stagnantis in status quo is the SIN that a MR.Huckabee needs to speakout about!!! The NRA needs to lead in regards to regulation....not stand silent like an uncaring statue!!! I don't want to hear there is nothing you can do.... crazy people are going to do crazy things no matter what you do!!! He didn't blow up the school with explosives....they are regulated,he didn't use a knife....he used an array of guns and no one knew he even had them or who he was until now. The people with the guns come out and speak on how to take care of this mess....and let the little ones have a life.

    December 16, 2012 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  5. fstaff

    "Lawmakers tend to stay quiet" I have yet to see that happen after a tragedy. While we're at it let's ban drugs too. Oh, wait we are. You see how well that is working. In 2010 the gov spent over $15 billion to battle drugs that are on many street corners.

    December 16, 2012 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  6. plain&simple

    The answer is not everyone needs to have a gun!!!! I don't know how anyone can say that......WHO has the most guns wins is backward. It's called ANARCHY not freedom!!!

    December 16, 2012 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  7. CBR

    The Governor;s words as he addressed his state and those in the high school tonight should be put on the web. He was eloquent and calming.

    December 16, 2012 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  8. Lance D.

    Guns are not the problem -- people will kill with anything avaialable and effective

    December 16, 2012 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  9. Lance D.

    Democrats will try to make gun laws an issue to deflect from the real issues - the issues that GOP and media will have to unravel since Democrats are in lock step with their King Obama - they either stay afloat or sink together?

    December 16, 2012 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  10. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    We need to make sure that people who have weapons have the level head (no mental issues) and keep those around them who might from getting their hands on the weapons. That second part is the harder challenge.

    December 16, 2012 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  11. Alex

    What about the statistic showing that places that have enacted stricter gun laws have seen an increase in crime (example Australia) Or how about you publish the news that the shooting in that mall a few weeks ago was stopped by a man who had a Concealed carry permit. It's a knee jerk reaction ban guns and it will make it go away, what you are doing is disarming those who could stand up and fight. Hey if you are gonna ban gun why not make all these politicians give up their body guards too, I am sure your laws that you enact will protect you right ? I see that what this country and it's leaders choose to do is punish the law abiding citizens for the mistakes of criminals. One thing for sure is that this administration the same one that armed drug dealers in mexico should not preach about gun control.

    December 16, 2012 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  12. Spence

    It's important to remember that we must punish all American's because of the crazed actions of these last two psychopaths that happen to be registered Democrats. What's the point of that. Oh, yeah, I forgot, Democrats hate American's and want to enslave them to the Federal Government. You could say that Democrats are really just a Neo Nazi organization of sorts.

    December 17, 2012 01:53 am at 1:53 am |
  13. Phil Thomas

    Wow these RNC guys are idiots, did they really say arm teachers ? Really an M4, things happen fast and a shoot out at a school is nuts, no place for Guns in schools. Then this Chavez douche from Utah says he's got a ton of guys but he's not the guy you need to worry about. Plenty of these guys dont have priors idiot. Look the RNC needs to step away from that NRA teet and stop sucking. These NRA guys fought hard to not elect Obama, slander him and lie when he made zero changes. Elections have consequences and the nation is tired of these senseless shootings

    December 17, 2012 02:23 am at 2:23 am |
  14. Frank

    Please do not tread anymore on the Constitution.
    This tragedy, gross as it was, was caused by an INDIVIDUAL, not by the weapon. As usual we want to punish all gun owners as opposed to the person that committed the crime. Bad people will continue to do bad things no matter what laws are in effect and to ban the individual ownership of weapons will only give the bad guys a better chance of getting away with it.
    This may be politically incorrect but it's the way I feel.

    December 17, 2012 04:35 am at 4:35 am |
  15. J'Cincinnati'

    Guns dont kill people,people kill people. I feel that every good hearted american should own a gun. Laws dont stop the evil Thats around us,but my 38snub will.

    December 17, 2012 04:48 am at 4:48 am |
  16. Marry

    There has to be an open discussion – however we have heard enough from the extreme gun lobbyists. It is time to take people serious that want to be protected from these gun owners! ("Responsible, mentally fit" – no one has to prove yet that they can handle and store guns safely!)
    A person can keep a small hand gun at home for protection. A hunter can own a shotgun also after training and background check. If you have a verifiable threat against your life, and can pass a Mental Health exam, and training, you can carry a gun. All gun owners should have to buy insurance against wrongful use and damage any of their weapons inflict! Those rates would reflect the enormous cost of guns on society! Nothing else is needed.
    No one needs to own a military grade weapon or horde piles of weapons anywhere! Guns belong in the hands of the Police and Military on duty! This is the kind of gun control we should aim for. Combined with many other aspects to minimize violence in society.

    December 17, 2012 04:57 am at 4:57 am |
  17. Steve

    Open up the looney bins and put them back in side . Stop the no psycho left behind law.

    December 17, 2012 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  18. josh rogen

    Connecticut has one of the strictest gun laws in the country. also all the gun laws in the world wont stop a deranged person from making a bomb, or taking a knife and commenting almost if not more carnage. it is the schools responsibly to protect the children best way to do that in the short term is to make armed defense of our schools mandatory

    December 17, 2012 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  19. Mammo

    Guns are just a prop for the weak... Like Mao said.. power emanates from the barrel of a gun... the weak feel powerful when holding a gun....until they see a bullet come towards them...
    Society in civilized nations like Singapore don't have guns..there are no shootings women, children and everyone are safe in the city even at midnight. We as a Nation should open our eyes and look around us and see what a pathetic laughing stock the NRA and Gun lobbies have made us.

    December 17, 2012 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  20. Steve

    This is a pure case of don't take your medicated kid to the rifle range.

    December 17, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  21. VCP

    There is NO reason for people to own the semi-automatic weapons which can fire hundreds of bullets. This type of weapons only belong in war zones. The US Government should or MUST ban such weapons.

    December 17, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  22. Sylar75

    I love the reasoning. How to curb gun violence. More guns. Have a heroin problem? More heroin!!! Lets put fire arms in the class rooms with 6 year olds. What could possibly happen?

    December 17, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  23. KWS

    Damage the economy, make more people rely on the government to survive, and then disarm us. The finger-pointing, chin-in-the-air pose is getting a little more ominous.

    December 17, 2012 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  24. Steve

    How many people where killed in car wrecks last year ?

    December 17, 2012 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  25. Jennifer

    Let's open a new thread.
    What about restricting MANUFACTURE of guns, specifically the manufacture of war-grade firearms ("assault weapons")?

    I am sincerely curious abut what others have to say about this.

    Many argue that it's useless to tighten gun ownership laws because a) they're strict enough already and it's made no difference and b) criminals don't obey laws. It's true that it's very hard to stop people from buying guns, either through legitimate venues or otherwise. What about moving the action closer to the source, i.e., restricting the number and kind of guns that can be manufactured in this country or imported? There are far fewer manufacturers than there are gun owners and these mfrs tend to be large and stationary entities, therefore easier to spot and regulate, no?

    What if the manufacturing of assault weapons (or anything considered war-grade firearms) was restricted to contracts for police or armed forces, with chain of custody documentation, i,e, . One gun more than what's on a legal sales order to police/military and you have some explaining to do. There will be ways to cheat the system but at least the onus is put on the source of the guns and you are dealing with way fewer individuals/entities to monitor.

    What do you all think?
    Can we shift the action to the manufacturers? (while also pursuing other solutions)
    Is there some middle ground on the topic of the kinds of firearms (i.e., intended purpose and killing efficiency) available to the public?

    Hoping we can talk seriously and respectfully about all ideas.

    December 17, 2012 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
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