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Sandy Hook tragedy: Pro-gun senator says it's time to ban assault rifles (+video)

The support of pro-gun Democrats, such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, is boosting prospects for a new drive to ban semi-automatic weapons and high-ammunition clips.

By Staff writer / December 17, 2012

Stuffed animals and a sign calling for prayer rested at the base of a tree near the Newtown Village Cemetery in Newtown, Conn., on Monday. A gunman walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself.

Charles Krupa/AP

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Will the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School lead to a new ban on assault rifles? That’s one question emerging in Washington as lawmakers react to a mass shooting that has left a Connecticut town in mourning and the nation itself wrestling with the single word, “why."

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A discussion of potential gun control legislation on CBS News' public affairs program, 'Face the Nation,' Sunday.

Most if not all of the bullets fired by gunman Adam Lanza came from an assault rifle, a civilianized version of the military’s M-16. Such semi-automatic weapons were banned for 10 years in the early 1990s. But the ban expired in 2004 and was not renewed as the political trend of the time, reflecting public opinion, was toward looser regulation of firearms.

Now Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California says she’ll reintroduce a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips in the next Congress. There are some indications that her proposal will receive at least a more serious hearing than have other recent attempts to curb these popular military-style items.

One reason an assault rifle ban may have life is that at least one prominent pro-gun Democrat has voiced support. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is himself an avid hunter and such a firm supporter of Second Amendment gun rights that one famous campaign ad depicted him firing a rifle bullet through an environmental bill. But on MSNBC Monday morning, Senator Manchin said that it’s time to sit down with the National Rifle Association (which has endorsed him in the past) to talk through common sense curbs that might help prevent another Sandy Hook.

“I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don’t know anybody that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about,” said Manchin.

If any new gun measure is to pass, it will need wide support from Democrats such as Manchin who represent red states. There are a number of red-state Senate Dems up for reelection in 2014, points out Aaron Blake on The Washington Post’s political blog, The Fix, including Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

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