Prominent gun-rights advocates in Congress now are calling for a national discussion about restrictions to curb gun violence, signaling that the horrific shooting at a Connecticut elementary school could be a tipping point in a debate that has been dormant for years.
“Everything should be on the table,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin declared Monday. He is a conservative Democrat, avid hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa proposed a debate not just about guns but also about mental issues.
In addition to members of Congress, a former Ohio governor whose political career was built with help from the National Rifle Association said Monday that it’s time to bring gun- rights advocates, the entertainment industry and politicians together to reduce violence after the Connecticut school schooting.
Democrat Ted Strickland spoke Monday after participating in the Ohio Electoral College that delivered Ohio’s 18 electoral votes for President Barack Obama.
Strickland said the Second Amendment assuring the right to bear arms should be subject to reasonable limits, as is the case with the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech. He said restrictions could be worked out through frank dialogue for the good of the country.
“I’ve always been a strong Second Amendment person, and I do believe the Second Amendment is a part of our constitutional guarantee and needs to be honored as such,” he said. “Having said that, I believe that this country is facing a culture of violence that is intolerable and cannot just simply be accepted as a way of life.”
Strickland’s comment came as he weighs a run against Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014. Strickland was ousted by Kasich in 2010 while seeking re-election.
White House officials said President Barack Obama would make preventing gun violence a second-term policy priority. But it was unclear what Obama would pursue or how, and aides said stricter gun laws would be only part of any effort.
The president met Monday afternoon with Vice President Joe Biden and a handful of Cabinet members to begin discussions on ways the country should respond to the Newtown shootings. Among those in attendance were Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
It remains to be seen whether Obama and Congress can turn their rhetoric into action or whether the shock over the Connecticut shootings will fade before they do. Public opinion has shifted against tougher gun control in recent years, and the gun lobby is a powerful political force, particularly in Republican primaries. Also, Obama has called for a national dialogue after other mass shootings during his presidency, only to see those efforts take a back seat to other pressing issues.
This time, the president has vowed to use “whatever power this office holds” to safeguard the nation’s children against gun violence, suggesting he may put political muscle behind an assault-weapons ban. He long has supported reinstating the ban, which expired in 2004, but never pressed for it in his first term. Liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill already are laying the groundwork for legislation to outlaw the military-style arms.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed Congress soon would “engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow.” The Senate Judiciary Committee will have hearings on gun violence early next year.
Twenty children and six adults were killed when a gunman carrying a high-powered military-style rifle and other guns stormed Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Friday morning then killed himself.
Virginia’s Mark Warner, one of the few Senate Democrats who have found favor with gun-rights groups, reversed course to back restrictions on assault weapons.
“The status quo is not acceptable anymore,” he said.
Since the shootings, the National Rifle Association has been silent. Requests for comments have gone unanswered, and officials are turning down interview requests until they have more details. Their 1.7 million-strong Face- book group has disappeared, and the group’s Twitter account — which is a favorite platform to communicate with supporters — has not sent a message since before the grim reality of Friday’s shootings set in.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she will introduce legislation next year to ban the sale of new assault weapons, as well as big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets.
Police say the Newtown gunman, Adam Lanza, was carrying an arsenal of ammunition and used a high-powered rifle similar to the military’s M-16.