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. Ykcyc

    Unless someone is armed and ready when something like this is happening, this type of terrible tragedy cannot be prevented. Laws are only effective with people who obey the laws in the first place. Murder has been illegal. Do you think anyone, who is willing to commit a murder is going to check or comply with any gun law. Every time there is a shooting, people want more gun laws. Did any of those law prevent anyone, who is willing to break any law. Only a bulet will stop such a person.

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

    I wholeheartedly agree with Bob,

    Sincerely, Fidel Castro, Dear Leader, Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler, Ayatollah Khomeni, Osama Bin Laden

    December 17, 2012 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  3. Carol

    I am all for the Second Amendment, but it was written over 250 years ago. There is no reason on this earth for us to have assault weapons key word "ASSAULT". If you want a gun for protection fine, if you want a rifle to hunt fine, if you just like to target shoot fine. But there is no good reason for assault weapons or magazines that hold a large number of bullet. Everyone in EVERY STATE, who wants to own a gun should be required to have a background check, take a safety course.

    December 17, 2012 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  4. Ykcyc

    Unless someone is armed and ready when something like this is happening, this type of terrible tragedy cannot be prevented. Laws are only effective for people who obey the laws in the first place. Mur-der has been illegal. Do you think anyone, who is willing to commit a mur-der is going to check or comply with any gun law? Every time there is a shooting, people want more gun laws. Did any of those law prevent anyone, who was willing to break any law. Only a bulet will stop such a person. Wake up people!

    December 17, 2012 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  5. Spencer

    If he didn't use a gun it would have been a bomb, the bomb would have been much worse. Remember Oklahoma? If he couldn't get a bomb it would have been poison, if it wasn't poision it would have been arsen. Yes, automatic guns have no place in any community but like others have said, don't go overboard with gun control. This guy may have done this just to put the country's focus on banning guns, who knows? It would be a sad day if the gunmans wishes can true. (If those were his wishes, I don't know).

    December 17, 2012 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  6. herbert

    How can you narrow minded, tunnel visioned people even associate this latest event with gun violence? This was a pure act of EVIL and would have been carried out with rocks and sticks if need be!! Now I am seeing how Obummer got re-elected!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 17, 2012 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  7. Joe06042

    I am so tired of the pro-gun retoric that the solution to these types of displicable acts of violence is to have more guns, or not to accept some sort of acknowledgement that part of the problem are that guns are prevalent in our American society and that gun control needs to be part of the solution. It is laughable to include instance in China where a man injured 22 children with a knife, how many of them died??? ZERO!!! Thats the difference between a knife and a semi-automatic weapon... And regarding mental illness – the guns used in the Newton tragedy where legally registered by the mother of the assailant. Heck she even took him shooting – seem to have provided great training for what he did....

    December 17, 2012 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  8. Pumbaa

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

    It obvious you "reporters" do not even proof read what you write. Don't let HIS happen again!

    December 17, 2012 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  9. pjusa

    A gun doesn't kill anyone any more than a bottle of beer, glass of wine or shot of whiskey causes someone to die at the hands of a drunk driver. It's people who kill people. The lazy populous of this country continue to close their eyes to one of the real problems that is ruining it from the inside out. Kids no longer get out and play. Instead they sit inside and watch violent movies and TV shows and play violent video games for hours on end. Parents are too busy or too tired to care and continue to buy the crap for their children. By the time a child is 10 he/she is numb to the visualization of people getting shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death. This is OK according to the Hollywood and NY liberals because it's only make believe. They are probably correct for 99% of children of normal mental intellect. However, for that 1% with mental or social issues it can tip them into a distorted view of reality. If only 1% of that 1% to turn their fantasy into reality and the results can be horrific.

    December 17, 2012 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  10. Denver Bob

    There is a reason why the second amendment exists. It is there so the Citizenry can force the government to abide by the laws.

    As Gimommy and several others have stated – The problem is NOT that upstanding citizens have weapons – it is that People kill people. There are too many medicated and non-medicated mentally ill people that some how decide to go over the edge. In China a man attacked school kids with a knife, In Newtown the kid killed his mother and took her gun, in Aurora, CO – a guy that was seeing a shrink was allowed to buy weapons because he LIED on his form and the police were powerless to discover his mental background because of HIPPA.

    The problem is mentally ill people – not guns (tool), because knives, baseball bats, tire irons – pens all can be used to kill.

    December 17, 2012 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  11. Satish

    I can't believe the screwed logic of pro-gun people on this post!!!! Can somebody explain to me as to why an ordinary citizen need a gun in the 1st place?? I know some of you guys will use the 2nd Amendement Law as a crutch to justify your stand on owning a gun. But that Law was written eons ago during Civil War!!! are we still in Civil War era??? Yes guns don't kill, it is the people, right, but if somebody knows that he/she has access to firearm, in a moment of madness or if that person snaps, what is his 1st reaction – grab that firearm & start the carnage. Now, imagine a few decades ago, if the person has problem with another person, they would go out & have a fist fight & settle the score, not like this. In the final anlysis, GUNS HAVE NO PLACE IN TODAY'S SOCIETY & THE WORLD. THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO NEED GUNS ARE LAW ENFORCE PEOPLE. PERIOD!!!! If you have a gun, i would urge you to return them, because the same gun that you have might be used on you....

    December 17, 2012 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  12. Joe

    The comparison below is a very silly comparison. Not even apples to apples. Killings through gun shootings are intentional with intent and malice. Car accidents are accidents and not intentional. Not apples to apples and a strange comparison.

    How many people where killed in car wrecks last year ?

    December 17, 2012 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  13. Fred Moore

    The gun laws needed are very different than those most people think of. With new restrictive gun laws, what if a murder comes in with an 18" machete? He will still kill many many kids before being stopped. I don't want a teacher to hid my kids from an assault, I want them to protect them from an assault. A gun free zone is a killing zone, be it with a gun, knife, or even rocks. I want the teachers and staff to be armed to REPEL murderers, like pilots are, not hid and die with my kids.

    December 17, 2012 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  14. Paula

    Ban meds, more people are killed with psyhcotropic meds than guns.

    December 17, 2012 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  15. Zarnold

    When will people stop blaming objects?! I am sorry but disarming the law abiding citizen won't help much. The criminals and the insane will find a way to get what they want. Banning guns will only serve the growing black market for guns. You will see more gangs and cartels dealing and moving guns. Go ahead deny people something, guess what the law abiding citizens, you know those people who respect human life, will obey the law. Those who want to kill and hurt others will find a way to get those guns. They governement regulations like a background check wont be present during those transactions. One other thought, what would scare a lunatic more, A) a school where he knows that no one can have guns because they are illegal, B) the fact that 3 or 4 teachers have the right to have a gun. Yah you gun control freaks are right, the demented people out there will be detered because they know that there is zero chance someone has a gun. Sure is working out great in Mexico.........

    December 17, 2012 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  16. Tim

    Guns have one purpose and one purpose only. To Kill!!! Be it an animal that you're hunting, an attacker similarily armed, or an innocent child. Why can't any of you people look in the mirror and say that these things are for killing? Arm the teachers!!!???? Are you all insane? So... the answer is a wild west type shoot out going on in our classrooms? What's to say the teacher's gonna be a better shot than the crazy with the assault weapon? You follks are all living in some kind of a crime movie fantasy!!! It's like your all waiting for your chance to "Take out the bad guy" but have any of you ever been in that situation?? The personality required to be a school teacher of young children is one of kindness and nurturing. This is the polar opposite of the type of personality required to remain dead calm in a life or death situation and accurately return fire. How about this: Let's finally once and forever overturn the 2nd amendment. But barring that let's have some reasonable and sane laws governing gun ownership in this country. There are more laws and regulations governing an electrical receptacle that you can buy at your local home improvement store than there are surrounding one's ability to buy a gun. Enough is enough people. And BTW those kids in China were hurt, injured by the knife wielder not killed. That attack was far less tragic. GET REAL!!

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

    I think everyone needs to look at this in simple terms. The country moved heaven and earth when International terrorists were killing Innocents and everyone came together to make sure to do whatever it took to prevent it from happening again. We know have our own people killing Innocents and now it is a debate about rights?.... What's up with that?

    December 17, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  18. Steffie

    However coined the phrase, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people"–and those who mindlessly repeat it–conveniently forgot/forget what the purpose of a gun is: it is, at best,intended to threaten someone with taking that person's life or, at worst, to actually do so. While any obejct can be used for such a purpose– a baseball bat, a rope, a pair of scissors, a knife, a crowbar, a car–none of these objects were first and foremost created to maim or kill. The only object specifically designed for this purpose is . . . a gun. So, for crying out loud, let's stop using the idotic line I referred to above as an excuse to guard against gun control!

    December 17, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  19. popseal

    Since alcohol kills more people on our streets, let's outlaw booze....wait, that's been tried and it didn't work. I can't imagine what a POST GUN BAN BLACK MARKET WOULD BE LIKE! ! !

    December 17, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  20. just some guy

    from wikipedia:

    Current laws

    In Chicago, gun owners are required to have a Chicago Firearm Permit, which costs $100 and must be renewed every three years.[21] Before getting the permit, the resident must complete a training course that includes at least four hours of classroom training and one hour of range time. Each gun must be registered with the Chicago Police Department at a one-time cost of $15 per gun, and an annual registration report must be filed every year.[22] Gun possession is permitted only inside a dwelling, not in a garage or on the outside grounds of the property. Only one gun at a time may be kept in a usable state.[23][24][25] Chicago's ordinances are being challenged in court, with plaintiffs alleging that they are so restrictive and burdensome as to interfere with citizens' Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.[12][26][27]

    Highland Park bars handgun possession unless the resident has obtained a permit from the Highland Park Police. The permit must be renewed every year, and the resident must attend a gun safety and training session, given by the police, every three years.

    From the huffington post Dec 3, 2012:

    According to the RedEye homicide tracker's tally, Chicago is up to 485 homicides this year, as of early Sunday. Last Monday, on the heels of a holiday weekend that saw at least 24 shootings, two men were shot, one fatally, outside of a funeral for an alleged gang member. Later Monday evening, Porshe Foster, a 15-year-old girl, was fatally shot while standing with friends in a back yard during a sleepover.

    Is this the model for gun control? I think it is actually stricter than what is being proposed. Is it working, you be the judge.

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

    Most of these killings have been by people who would normally have access to guns legally. They aren't using assault weapons. This most recent psycho used hunting rifles.

    December 17, 2012 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  22. Dan M

    We have tried gun restrictions in the psat with the original AWB from Clinton. gun crimes did NOT decrease at all, it just further disarmed the law abiding citizens. We need to try the alternative which is LOOSENING gun laws and getting rid of ALL "no weapons zones" because this is just fish in the bucket for these lunatics. If that fails then by all means let's look at some othe roptions but this whole thing is being played out for political gain. Eric Holder and the CIA were behind these shootings. It's called MKULTRA our government has been using it on people for 40+ years, starting with our military men. Wake up people and if they strip your rights then we need to rise up as a country against our crooked politicians. Stock up while you still can, folks, stock up.

    December 17, 2012 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  23. Freedom88

    Ban all you want, but what people don't understand is anyone with a few skills and a a couple of milling tools can build AK47 rifles all day long. these guns were designed to be built with minimal tooling and simple enough even third world maroons can build them.

    December 17, 2012 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  24. WordUpToo

    what is up with all of these idiots likening this tragedy to abortion? Uh, last time I checked, abortion was a legal medical procedure, one that is no one's business but the woman involved. time for you nuts to give up that argument.

    December 17, 2012 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  25. Informed Poster

    I am a licensed firearms manufacturer, so I feel I can weigh in on this issue with some degree of credibility.

    I'm going to try to clear up a few things here.

    1. Firearm sales are highly regulated. Prospective buyers must pass a national criminal background check...period.
    2. "Selling on the internet" doesnt exist. A firearm is transferred from a licensed dealer to purchaser IN THEIR OWN STATE. So see Number 1.
    3. As a dealer you may sell to a customer from another state IF both state laws allow it.
    4. It is illegal for anyone under 21 to possess a handgun.
    5. Private sales within the same state are NOT regulated by the federal government.
    6. There are MILLIONS of rifles in this country (only a few are used in crimes, by criminals, who dont follow laws)
    7. A ban on certain firearms will cost alot of people their jobs, and lives. Small companies innovate real solutions that save the lives of soldiers. We can operate because we generate revenue from selling to civilians.
    8. This is a mental health issue....not a firearms issue.

    December 17, 2012 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
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