December 18, 2012
WASHINGTON (Canadian Press) -- Some U.S. Republicans now say they're willing to discuss the politically treacherous issue of gun control, along with mental health issues and violent video games, while formerly pro-gun Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, says it's time to place gun control on the table in the wake of last week's Connecticut school shooting.
House Republicans discussed the gun issue at their regular closed-door meeting Tuesday, and at least some were willing to consider gun control as part of a solution to the kind of violence that killed 26 people, including 20 children 6 and 7 years old.
The shooting has rattled the usual national dialogue on guns in America, where public opinion had shifted against tougher gun control in recent years and the gun lobby is a powerful political force.
President Barack Obama has called for "meaningful action" and met with Cabinet members Monday on how to respond. He has long supported reinstating the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, but was quiet on the issue during his first term. Obama has said he believes the Constitution's Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms.
The president was not expected to take any formal action on guns before the end of the year, given the all-consuming efforts to resolve tax and deficit-reduction talks and nominate new Cabinet secretaries.
Since the shootings, the powerful National Rifle Association lobby has been silent.
"Put guns on the table, also put video games on the table, put mental health on the table," Rep. Jack Kingston said after Tuesday's Republican meeting. But he added that nothing should be done immediately. "There is a time for mourning and a time to sort it out."
Reid said "a thoughtful debate about how to change laws" is coming soon. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said Monday that the debate must include guns and mental health. And NRA member Sen. Joe Manchin, another Democrat, agreed it's time to begin an honest discussion about gun control and said he wasn't afraid of the political consequences.
It's too early to say what could emerge next year in Congress, but the comments are significant. Grassley is senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which probably would take the first action on any gun control legislation. Reid sets the Senate schedule. And Manchin defied the NRA while the politically powerful pro-gun group has remained silent since Friday's massacre.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Mayors wrote Obama and Congress calling for "stronger gun laws, a reversal of the culture of violence in this country, a commission to examine violence in the nation, and more adequate funding for the mental health system."
Specifically, the mayors asked for:
-A ban on assault weapons and other high-capacity magazines, like those reportedly used in the school shooting.
-Strengthening the national background check system for gun purchasers.
-Strengthening the penalties for straw purchases of guns, in which legal buyers acquire weapons for other people.
Reid told the Senate, "In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow."
His comments mark a shift in his approach to the issue.
After a mass shooting in July at a Colorado theatre left 12 people dead, Reid said the Senate's schedule was too busy to have a debate on gun control.
And after 32 people were killed in 2007 at Virginia Tech, Reid cautioned against a "rush to judgment" about new gun laws.
In 2010, top NRA official Wayne LaPierre called Reid "a true champion" of gun rights.
Other Republicans said mental health, not guns, was the problem.
"There are just evil people in the world. There's nothing you're going to do to prevent evil from occurring," Rep. Virginia Foxx said.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted over the weekend showed 54 per cent in the U.S. favour tougher laws, about the same as the 51 per cent in favour earlier in the year. Seven in 10 are opposed to banning the sale of handguns to anyone except law enforcement officers, the highest percentage since 1999.
(c) The Canadian Press, 2012