Democrats unveil proposals to address Newtown shooting

December 19, 2012

This post has been updated.

As the Obama administration begins its review of how to prevent further incidents of gun violence, several proposals are awaiting consideration on Capitol Hill, including a renewed ban on assault weapons and large-capacity gun clips and a proposal to provide federal money to governors who deploy National Guard troops to protect the nation’s schools.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein(D-Calif.)  (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

Democrats are most eager to renew the federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004 with little opposition. Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said this week that she will reintroduce a ban on the weapons when the new Congress begins in January.

“We must take these dangerous weapons of war off our streets,” Feinstein said, noting that she has been working on reintroducing the ban for more than a year. 

In the House, Democrats have introduced a similar assault weapons ban, and on Wednesday called on House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to immediately hold a vote on a bill banning large magazine clips.

In an effort to demonstrate the shift in political thinking since the Newtown shooting, Democrats have tapped Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), a lifelong hunter and gun rights activist, to lead their gun-related efforts. Thompson said Wednesday that several Democratic proposals “certainly make sense,” including the ban on high-capacity magazines.

“I’ve been a hunter all my life, and there’s no reason to have a magazine that holds 30 shells,” Thompson said.

During an emotional news conference announcing their new focus on gun control, House Democrats put forth several members personally affected by gun violence, including Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), who took a seat in Congress after being shot and wounded alongside former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in Jan. 2011; Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), whose husband was killed and son severely wounded in the December 1993 shooting on a Long Island Railroad commuter train; Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), who has had to use a wheelchair since age 16 after being wounded in an accidental shooting; and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), whose 29-year old son was killed in a 2009 shooting.

Rush noted that beyond mass shootings at suburban schools and movie theaters, hundreds of urban residents have been “shot down like dogs in the streets” this year, including victims as young as 18 months and 19 years old in his home town of Chicago. As several of his colleagues wept, Rush recalled standing in the hospital room as his son was declared dead and how his daughter and wife screamed in anguish.

“It wasn’t a scream of a black woman, it wasn’t a scream of a white mother, it wasn’t a scream of a Latino mother, it wasn’t a scream of an Asian woman, it was a scream — a primal scream — of a mother,” Rush said. “A scream that’s rarely duplicated anywhere. It’s a horrible scream and I can’t get that scream out of my consciousness.”

McCarthy added that she knows all too well the pain experienced by the victims of the Newtown shooting: “I lost my husband right before Christmas and my son was fighting for his life in ICU on Christmas Day. This Christmas, there will be unopened presents in Newtown, and all the holidays in the future will be a reminder for all these families.”

Perhaps the angriest comments came from Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), whose district is just south of Newtown. Seething with anger, he labeled Republicans calling for more Americans to buy and carry weapons and for teachers and school administrators to carry firearms in schools “testosterone-laden individuals who have blood on their hands for making those comments.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had similarly tough words for gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association, which has said little since the schoolyard shooting.

“I think they’re overrated,” she said of the group Wednesday, noting that she has “big time” opposition from the NRA in their reelection races and still wins handily.

Boxer unveiled two proposals Wednesday to bolster school security. The first would require the Justice Department and Education Department to draft new school safety guidelines and provide up to $50 million to help schools implement new security plans. Another proposal would provide federal reimbursement for up to 4,000 National Guard troops to be used by state governors to protect schools. The proposal is an expansion of a similar program that reimburses state governments who use the National Guard to assist in drug interdiction activities.

Of the shifting political mood for action in the Senate, Boxer noted that “this is a time when you could see a lot of colleagues coming to the microphone; they’re not calling a lot of people, they’re moving out of their gut, their brain, their heart, because they know that each of us is responsible.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, also introduced a bill Wednesday calling for further federal studies on the affects of violent video games, television shows and movies. He also called on the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to further study concerns about violence in entertainment, noting that “changes in technology now allow kids to access violent content online with less parental involvement.  It is time for these two agencies to take a fresh look at these issues.”

In addition, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) became the first Republican senator to express support for a federal ban on assault weapons, telling a Massachusetts newspaper that “What happened in Newtown where those children were subject to that level of violence is is beyond my comprehension.”

He noted that he supported an assault weapons ban when he was a state legislator in Massachusetts, and that the nation needs a broader debate regarding mental health issues.

Brown lost his reelection bid last month so it is unlikely that he will be in the Senate when legislation prompted by the Newtown, Conn., shooting is considered by lawmakers.

 

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This post has been updated since it was first published.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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Ed O'Keefe · December 19, 2012