WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman said Sunday that military-style assault weapons should be banned and that a national commission should be established to examine mass shootings in the United States.
The proposals were among the first to come from Congress in the wake the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Gun rights activists remained largely quiet on the issue, all but one declining to appear on the Sunday talk shows. Meanwhile, Democrats vowed action and said it was time to hear from voters — not gun lobbyists — on how to prevent the next shooting.
The time for saying that we can't talk about the policy implications of tragedies like this is over, said Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who won a Senate seat in the November elections.
President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats haven't pushed for new gun controls since rising to power in the 2008 national elections. Outspoken advocates for stricter laws, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, say that's because of the powerful sway of the National Rifle Association.
But advocates also say the latest shooting is a tipping point that could change the dynamic of the debate dramatically. Feinstein, D-Calif., said she will propose legislation next year that would ban big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets. It can be done, she said Sunday of reviving the 10-year ban that expired in 2004.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Obama could use executive powers to enforce existing gun laws, as well as throw his weight behind legislation like Feinstein's.
Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who is retiring, supports such a ban, but said there should also be a national commission to scrutinize gun laws and loopholes, as well as the nation's mental health system and the role of violent entertainment.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said he would support such a panel, adding that it was time for a national discussion that included school safety.
But, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should herself have been armed.
I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn't have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands. But she takes him (the shooter) out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids, Gohmert said.
He also argued that violence is lower in cities with lax gun laws, and higher in cities with stricter laws.