In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama may be avoiding one of politics’ third rails – gun control – for now, at least. But senior Democrats in Congress are feeling no such hesitancy.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she will reintroduce legislation to ban the sale of assault-type weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips – both of which were used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 20 first graders and six adult school staff, including the principal and teachers.
On Saturday, the medical examiner reported that alleged shooter Adam Lanza had shot each of the victims multiple times before killing himself with a semi-automatic rifle patterned after a military firearm.
On Sunday, Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance reported that Lanza had hundreds of bullets in magazines that held 30 bullets each. A federal ban on such weapons, passed during the Clinton administration, expired in 2004.
Although President Obama has voiced support for such a ban, he has not pushed the issue, even though polls indicate public support.
A CNN/ORC poll, conducted in the aftermath of the mass shooting incidents in Colorado and Wisconsin, found 57 percent of adults favoring a ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of assault weapons, with 60 percent saying they would support a ban on the possession of high-capacity ammunition clips.
“I’m going to introduce it in the Senate, and the same bill will be introduced in the House,” Sen. Feinstein said on "Meet the Press." "It can be done."
“We’ve tried to take my bill from ‘94 to 2004 and perfect it, and we believe we have,” she said. “We exempt over 900 specific weapons that will not fall under the bill. But the purpose of this bill is to get … weapons of war, off the streets of our cities.”
On “Fox News Sunday, Senators Dick Durbin and Joe Lieberman called for a national commission to examine mass shootings in the United States. Both Democrats favor reinstituting the ban on assault rifles.
“We’ve been through this before too many times,” Sen. Lieberman said. “Columbine, Gabby Giffords, Aurora in the movie theater, Virginia Tech.”
“Are there high ammunition clips that really have no value whatsoever when it comes to sporting, hunting and even self defense? That a person can buy body armor and can take that armor and use it to protect themselves while they kill innocent people,” Sen. Durbin said. “Why in the world would anyone … need a military assault weapon, designed for the military, with the ability to fire off hundreds of rounds?”
“I’m all for sport and hunting and self defense” Durbin added. “This goes way beyond that.”
Although the powerful gun lobby – mainly the National Rifle Association – keeps many lawmakers from vocally backing tighter gun control laws, polls of individual NRA members indicate more willingness to move in that direction.
Seventy-four percent of NRA members favor requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun; 69 percent support requiring all gun sellers at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks of the people buying guns; 59 percent favor mandatory registration of handguns; and 77 percent favor a waiting period for the purchase of a handgun.
Would any of that have prevented Adam Lanza from killing 27 people, including his mother? Probably not, since the guns he used were registered in his mother’s name.
But for now, at least, the Sandy Hook school shooting has reinvigorated a largely dormant debate.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent and a strong advocate of tougher gun control, continued his criticism of President Obama on the issue.
"It's time for the president to stand up and lead and tell this country what we should do," Mayor Bloomberg said on “Meet the Press.” "This should be his No. 1 agenda."
Bloomberg also rejects the notion that the NRA controls the agenda on gun control.
"One of the things I decided to do in this last election was to support some candidates that were running against those that had great records with the NRA. Where the NRA was putting their money into one side, I decided to put my money into the other side," Bloomberg said. "We won four out of seven. And we won with a small amount of money. There is this myth that the NRA is so powerful."