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Tide shifting on pro-gun beliefs

Newtown tragedy prompts lawmakers to reconsider stances

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tucson. Aurora. Virginia Tech. The names have become synonymous with shooting tragedies, and each sparked new debate over gun laws, though little action resulting.

But Newtown is shaping up to be different.

Last month's shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school has prompted a slew of pro-gun legislators to question their beliefs and prodded the White House to appoint a task force, headed by the vice president, to deliver a broad strategy to curb gun violence.

On the second anniversary of the Tucson, Ariz., shootings Tuesday, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, announced they were launching the Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, an advocacy group to combat gun violence. In addition to Tucson, the two used Newtown, where 26 people, including 20 young children, were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as an impetus.

"Our response to the Newtown massacre must consist of more than regret, sorrow and condolence," the two wrote in a USA Today op-ed. "The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve fellow citizens and leaders who have the will to prevent gun violence in the future."

Rep. Ron Barber, Ms. Giffords' former chief of staff who won her seat in Congress, organized a mental-health task force and a fund for mental illness after he was wounded two years ago in Tucson. Still, he also pointed to Newtown on Tuesday even as he recalled the events that nearly claimed his life.

"I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I believe in the right to bear arms, and the Supreme Court has upheld it," the Arizona Democrat said on MSNBC. "But the kind of firepower that killed 20 little ones in Connecticut, we have to do something about that."

Some lawmakers said it was wrong to use the Sandy Hook shooting to push for gun controls, while others said they'd wait to see what recommendations come from Vice President Joseph R. Biden's task force — though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress' schedule is already booked in the near future.

"I think what we need to first is see what the vice president's group comes up with, what their recommendations are," the Kentucky Republican said this weekend on NBC's "Meet the Press." "There will be plenty of time to take a look at their recommendations once they come forward. What's going to dominate Washington for the next three months here is going to be spending and debt."

Indeed, Congress will be faced with major decisions on automatic spending cuts, the country's debt ceiling, and new spending to keep the government running. Mr. Obama's Cabinet nominees for his second term will also have to clear the Senate.

The White House argued Tuesday that it's incumbent on lawmakers to handle multiple issues at once.

"We can't, either here or in Congress, simply say, you know, there's too much to be done, so we're not going to press forward," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Mr. Biden is meeting this week with gun violence prevention and gun rights organizations, including the National Rifle Association, as well as members of the video game and entertainment industries to discuss violence in the media.

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