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Tragedy strikes hearts, changes 
minds of pro-gun Democrats

Some willing to add restrictions

- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2012

Some pro-gun Democrats said Monday that they have rethought their stance and are now open to restrictions on so-called "assault weapons," as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it's time Congress holds a gun-control debate in the wake of Friday's deadly shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school.

Mr. Reid, who has voted against gun-control measures in the past, represents one of the most important voices in such a debate, as he controls whether the body will take up any legislation that could be sent to the House of Representatives.

"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," Mr. Reid said as he opened Monday's session of the Senate — the first time lawmakers convened since Friday's shooting.

That rampage left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in addition to the suspected gunman and his mother, killed at her home. Police said the shooter, identified as Adam Lanza, had a semi-automatic rifle and two semi-automatic handguns with him, as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

In the days since, calls for action have come from all directions, including lawmakers who previously fought more restrictions.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who literally shot a bullet through Mr. Obama's "cap-and-trade" energy bill in a 2010 campaign ad, said that "everything should be on the table."

"I ask all of my colleagues to sit down with a seriousness of purpose to address the causes of these tragic crimes, including mental health treatment, military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and our culture, which seems to glorify violence more than ever in our video games and movies," he said.

The pro-gun stance of Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia helped him win support from the more conservative parts of Southwest Virginia during his 2001 gubernatorial run against former state Attorney General Mark L. Earley. But the events in Newtown, Conn., have changed his position on so-called assault weapons, Mr. Warner said Monday in interviews at the state Capitol.

"The status quo is not acceptable anymore," Mr. Warner said. "I hope this won't just be a flash point and then it will just recede into the quagmire in Washington."

They may have several opportunities.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, said Monday that he plans to reintroduce a bill he pushed in 2011 that bans magazines with the capacity of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said she would introduce a bill to ban assault weapons. Congress passed such a ban in 1994 that lapsed in 2004.

That legislation applied to military-style semi-automatic rifles, though groups on both sides of the issue said the criteria used to define the weapons was based more on appearance than functionality.

Some, though, doubted more restrictions would work, and called for increasing access to guns for teachers to prevent such attacks. St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch likened the situation in Newtown to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in broaching the idea of arming school officials.

"I see it no differently," he told a local CBS affiliate. "Pilots have been armed now for many, many years. We've not had another hijacking, and the issue is, for the bad guy, he doesn't know which airplane he's getting on, if the pilot is armed or not.

"If there's somebody that's really hellbent on doing something like this, they're not going to care what the law is," he added.

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas expressed a similar sentiment Sunday, saying he wished Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who lunged at Lanza before she was fatally shot, had access to a firearm.

Mr. Reid's vow to hold a gun debate could free up the necessary time to bring a bill to the Senate floor, where the last major gun debate was in 2004.

The Nevada Democrat has been a supporter of gun rights, including voting in 2004 against renewal of the assault-weapons ban during that debate.

When President Obama told Mexico that the U.S. should ratify a small-arms treaty, Mr. Reid's adverse reaction shelved that part of his party leader's agenda.

But in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he said "every idea should be on the table."

Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, promised Monday to lead hearings on the status of laws, but said other Senate committees need to step up and look at other issues such as mental health concerns.

Still to be seen is what kind of legislative muscle the White House will use.

Mr. Obama pledged Sunday to "use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this."

But the White House largely declined to go into specifics Monday, though spokesman Jay Carney pointed out that Mr. Obama supported reinstating the assault-weapons ban.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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