Texas congressman: Principal should have been armed
Gun debate gains traction as some lawmakers say it's time to act
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.
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."
Others emphasized an additional 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.'"
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