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.

- Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker

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. upstate New York

    Given the scope and multiple events that have happened in relative recnt times, this needs to be addressed in a calm and rational manner, not a KNEE-JERK reaction ( ie- ban all guns immediately!!). We've bee nthrough this before, after each tradgedy and
    here we are again. The problem is the sick ,disturbed people who do this! We have a mental-health system that is BROKEN, BROKEN, BROKEN. All these violent sick people are products of that broken system. If they didnt have a gun they would find another weapon (example- China's incident with a knife). We NEED to repair the BIG problem of not dealing with the mentally ill, especially the youth of today. Guns can and will be stolen no matter what you (POLITITIONS) legislate, just like any knife, machete, pitchfork or any other weapon.

    December 17, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  2. Steve

    This is the minorities trying to run the majority in the USA. AGAIN ! Just like the popular vote. It is BS.

    December 17, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  3. Ron Gaddy

    Dennis Richardson is RIGHT! ARM TEACHERS or privide a Resource Officer at each School!!!!

    December 17, 2012 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  4. jackmeirod

    We need:
    1. Better mental health screening, improved bacgkground checks, and a law that makes it illegal to possess a firearm if anyone in the home is diagnosed with a serious mental illness.
    2. Magazine capacity restrictions. 10 is too low - the majority of modern firearms, handguns and rifles, are designed to take magazines with between 10 and 20 rounds and we cannot confiscate this property from law abiding people. 15 rounds, the current limit in NJ makes a lot more sense. Other features of "assault rifles" such as collapsible stocks have zero bearing on public safety.
    3. Nationwide concealed carry under a Federal law and permitting system. There are too many states such as NJ, NY and CA and areas that ban lawful concealed carry even by trained individuals (unless you are a politician or celebrity). Concealed carry, with background checks and training, enables responsible people to defend themselves and others. Let Bloomberg and Schumer put their money where their mouths are and see if they can really compromise and put the ball in the NRA's court..

    December 17, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  5. gimommy

    Gun control is not the issue. We have gun control. A man in China hurt school children with a knife and that should help you understand that guns are not the real issue. The real issue is mental illness, treatment of mental illness and enforcement of the gun laws we have. I am a Vet and I know many people who owns guns and enjoy shooting as a sport. It takes self control and coordination to excel, just like any other sport and I understand people wanting to own guns.
    What we really need to look at is enforcement of the current background check laws, updating databases when there are domestic issues so that guns don't fall into the hands of the unauthorized. We also need to look at treating those with mental illness and not allowing them to legally obtain weapons. we need to look at what is necessary to treat mental illness, more residential facilities and more resources for those who are treating mental illness.

    When drunk driving was a major problem that killed many people, we didn't ban vehicles. We attacked the root cause, increased the drinking age, increased the penalties for not following the rules, etc realizing what the real issue is. The bottom line is that guns don't kill people, people kill people and we need to address the root cause, not ban the tool.

    December 17, 2012 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  6. B Cook

    How many tragedies are there where the shooter actually owned the gun they used? Not too many. The mother legally owned guns but obviously didn't have them properly secured and locked. Maybe we need more education or training in gun storage?

    December 17, 2012 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  7. DustyOnes

    Arm our Teachers! Now!

    December 17, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  8. WordUpToo

    Let the gun nuts have as many guns as they want, and any kind they want, just regulate and control the sale of ammunition, including banning any ammunition for assault weapons.

    December 17, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  9. Michael

    The mentality of some of the posters here just defy logic. Guns don't kill people. People kill people. If this guy had driven a car through the play ground and ran down the kids, would you be chanting for cars to be banned? No. Saying guns are the cause that people die is the same as saying pencils are the reason there are bad spellers. The governement should try enforcing the gun laws we have rather then trying to come up with new ones. I am no gun nut, but I do own two rifles and one hand gun. I spend my time at the range with friends and family and I have never hunted or had any desire to hunt or shoot a living thing of any species. That said, if someone comes breaking into my home at 3am and are actually inside my home, they are going to have a date with the coroner. Taking guns away from law abiding people (last time I check, there are millions and millions of gun owners who don't commit crimes), then the only ones who are going to be armed are the criminals. Brilliant idea. While the events that have happened this year are tragic and my heart goes out to the victims and their families, but more people are killed each year in car accidents, weather related events like Hurricane Sandy, etc then from tragedies like this one in Connecticutt. As to the claim that it's an assault weapon like in this case, a .223 rifle that he had is no different then a .223 hunting rifle, it just has a cosmetic look that some people prefer over the other, had he had the hunting rifle version which you can get large capacity magazines for, it wouldn't have changed anything unfortunately.

    December 17, 2012 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  10. Bob

    "Please ban all guns and start the control now"

    – Armed Crimmals

    December 17, 2012 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  11. Steve

    @ plain and simple . Lets medicate all the ill and send them out on the street. How about your street?

    December 17, 2012 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  12. aaron

    Part of the self-defense arguments for assault weapons for protection would have to involve giving guns to 5 and 6 year olds. Not sure how the gun fanatics are going to put a positive spin on that.

    December 17, 2012 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  13. Jennifer

    What about restricting MANUFACTURE of guns, specifically the manufacture of war-grade firearms ("assault weapons")?

    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 police.

    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 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  14. ChristoInferno

    The Republican mindset, in a nutshell:

    "What? A small number of people game the welfare system? Do away with it!"
    "What? A small number of gun owners use them to kill innocent human beings? Well, what can you do."

    GOP: the party that hates poor people more than it loves children.

    December 17, 2012 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  15. Frank

    B Cook
    How many tragedies are there where the shooter actually owned the gun they used? Not too many. The mother legally owned guns but obviously didn't have them properly secured and locked. Maybe we need more education or training in gun storage?


    They need to prosecute gun owners who allow nut cases and children access to "THEIR" guns. I own them and a CHL, I'm not giving up right to protect myself, neither will the other 200 million gun owners who WILL NOT allow the 2nd amendment to wiped out any more than we will allow the 1st amendment to wiped out. Gun owners should have their guns locked up around anyone with mental issues or children or anyone violent or unstable, if they don't then arrest them. Im all for that but you can forget banning them outright, they will just start a civil war overnight if they do that.

    December 17, 2012 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  16. Earthling

    I love how the gun nuts see the same text as me – "Assault weapons ban" and "focus on access to high-capacity magazines", and they immediately jump to full-on confiscation of anything that goes bang. There is no circumstance in which an ordinary citizen needs a full-auto capable high capacity weapon. None. Give it up.

    December 17, 2012 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  17. Jake

    I would feel safer if there was a professional armed guard at my child's school, and I think that would be the fair middle ground between those who do want to carry and those who do not.
    The right to bear arms is not a self-defense thing, it is an "overthrow your corrupt government" thing. Both reasons to keep and cherish the constitution as is... but really, wouldn't putting a couple extra cops on the pay role for public – gun prohibited areas be more practical? In any conversation, the victims need to be discussed, this event was a tragedy and needs to be discussed as such rather than an opportunity. My heart truely aches at the thought of these poor families!

    December 17, 2012 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  18. Jamie

    I find it quite disturbing that a majority of those who jump on the 'gun control' bandwagon following a tragedy such as this in Newtown are the same ones who turn a blind eye to 3000+ children who are murdered daily by abortion. Sure, outlaw guns. But, if you do that, you best outlaw doctors, too, for more people die at the hands of doctors than they do by guns ... DAILY. C'mon, people, use your heads. Those intent on harming or killing WILL find a way. It's that simple.

    December 17, 2012 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  19. VA_Ken

    Video game violence, batman movies, youth, and his pent up frustrations hell bent on taking out the most vulnerable in society have a lot more to do with what caused this then gun laws do. His attack occurred in a "gun free zone", he tried to buy a gun but was denied, in order to access the guns he used, he had to commit matricide prior to committing homicide and then suicide. I'm all for an open and general discussion on all elements that cause these kids to kill innocent strangers, but let's try not to simplify the solution which is nothing more than a political cause that does nothing to prevent this happening again.

    If guns were the problem, then why is the first response always an urgent demand to get as many guns to the scene as possible? Has anyone mentioned that it was a gun pointed at the killer that put an end to the shooting spree?

    December 17, 2012 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  20. george busch

    Guards in schools. A bunch of old, slow employees who will be shot first. Besides, it's not just schools. It's malls, campground, amusement parks, places of worship, street corners – anywhere people meet in groups. Hiring guards won't end this – it will just waste more tax dollars. Stop selling assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and anything that allows killing a lot of people with a firearm in a short amount of time. Better background and mental checks are needed. If you want to defend yourself get a shotgun. If you are interested in killing a lot of people you get an assault rifle. Otherwise, you only need a rifle that shoots a few rounds – deer are fast and you'll only get 2 or 3 shots. More than that and you're just making noise and wasting lead.

    December 17, 2012 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  21. Alger Dave

    OK, here are a few facts: 1) the federal 'assault weapons ban' didn't ban assault weapons – it only banned large clips for weapons. There's no indication that the shooter at Sandy Hook had a large clip, or just a bunch of smaller ones, or maybe he simply just reloaded his smaller clip a bunch of times. The truth is, this assault weapons ban wouldn't have kept the mother from buying the gun, or the kid from using it at the school. 2) The weapon he used, an AR-15 Bushmaster, is a semi-automatic weapon. Every time you pull the trigger you get one bullet fired until you run out of bullets and need to insert a new clip, or reload your clip. It only looks different that most hunting rifles, but it's 'action' or firing mechanism is largely the same – one trigger pull, one bullet fires until you run out. Probably over 1/2 the guns in America (pistols, rifles and shotguns) are semi-automatic. Everyone is confused by the look of the AR-style guns – but they are copies in look only of the military weapons that fire automatically or in short bursts of bullets. They are NOT the same thing. Automatic weapons are ILLEGAL in the US and should be. 3) Adam Lanza appears to have been a mentally disturbed young man. Now reports are coming out that his mother encouraged those who watched him in her absence – not to take their eyes off him, even to go to the bathroom! A higher level of gun control is necessary in a home where such a person lives. The mother either didn't bother with this, or didn't understand it was necessary. 4) The Sandy Hook massacre is a MENTAL HEALTH WAKE UP CALL – just like so many of the other mass shootings we've seen lately – they've been a mix of mentally disturbed people (often well documented) and guns. We've too long put patient's rights for the mentally ill above public safety. That pendulum needs to swing back in the other direction for a while. That's the real story here – not an 'assault weapon ban' that doesn't ban assault weapons, but apparently assuages the consciences of liberals and those who don't know how to deal with our mental health crisis, or don't want to bother.

    December 17, 2012 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  22. Ken E.


    I think everyone here wants a solution. We just have to do so with the facts in mind. Here are some things you need to know:

    1) There were no automatic weapons involved in any recent mass shooting. There are no automatic weapons on the streets. If you call for a ban of automatic weapons, you'll look like an idiot. Contrary to what Hollywood tells you, Automatic weapons are not used in gun crimes today.

    2) Semi-Automatic weapons fire ONE bullet per ONE press of the trigger. Thats it. One. Any gun that fires more than one bullet per press is an Automatic, which as mentioned are not involved in gun crime today.

    3) Conneticut has super strict gun laws. The shooter on Friday tried to buy a gun on Tuesday, but was denied. The gun control system in Conn. worked. This guy stole the guns from someone else. There are zero more gun control laws that would have changed this outcome: He was denied for a gun. The laws worked as well as they could.

    4) In the areas of the country with the strictest gun control laws, Chicago and DC, gun crime increased greatly after strict laws were passed. If you want more mass shootings and more gun crime, get more gun control. This is a proven fact in our society.

    5) "Assault" rifles are used in less than 0.02% of gun crimes, and none were used in Fridays tragedy (a rifle was found locked in the trunk of the shooters car, and was not used). These "Assault rifles" are still semi-auto (ONE bullet per ONE press of the trigger). Banning these rifles will make literally zero difference in gun crime.

    Thanks, you are now more educated then most democratic senators.

    December 17, 2012 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  23. Steve

    Let Bloomberg walk to work alone passed the shameless homeless medicated timebombs and see if he changes his mind. These politicians are not citizens they are narcissists Give me some meds LOL

    December 17, 2012 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  24. AEF

    The crazies just get crazier and logic disappears out of the window. . .
    yup, arm teachers. Hey, but wait a minute, what if the teacher doesn't get to his or her gun in time and is shot first??
    I know – ARM THE KIDS!! That way, if the teacher doesn't stop the assailant – the kids will!!
    A nation gone mad.

    December 17, 2012 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  25. AL in West Palm Beach

    Someone said to me that everyone needs a weapon for protection both against criminals and against the government to prevent it from becoming a tirany.

    here is my answer: If gun laws are so strict (like England) that crimininals can't get them then the general public needs not worry as much. Las year only 35 people died because of guns in England...we burried almost 112K.

    Secondly: Do you really believe that you can build a militia powerful enough to take on a government that possess abrahams tanks, stealth fighters, and nuclear weapons? If you can't keep a straight face to answer this, then scratch the second amendment.

    December 17, 2012 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
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