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President Barack Obama backs new assault weapons ban

7:41 AM, Dec 19, 2012   |    comments
President Obama at a Sunday memorial for school shooting victims.(Photo: Pool)
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WASHINGTON -- President Obama supports efforts to reinstate an assault weapons ban as part of a comprehensive plan to address gun violence, his spokesman said Tuesday.

Press Secretary Jay Carney added that Obama would back proposals to close the "gun show loophole," which allows people to buy weapons without background checks.

Carney's comments came as Democratic members of Congress stepped up their push for gun regulations in the wake of Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 students and six adults.

Obama met with aides and others to develop a "comprehensive" plan that would include the education, social and mental health issues associated with gun violence. He is also "interested in looking at" possible restrictions on high-capacity ammunition clips, Carney said.

The president spoke by phone Tuesday with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democratic gun rights supporter who said he is re-thinking his position in light of Friday's shooting.

Obama "wants to move in the coming weeks," Carney said.

The administration's project will likely involve Vice President Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. All have spoken with Obama.

After he spoke with Obama, Manchin said that "we must have a dialogue and bring parties from all sides to the table."

That includes "my friends" at the National Rifle Association and other Second Amendment supporters, Manchin said. He added, "I know that their hearts are aching for the families in Newtown, just like all Americans."

In addition to new gun control measures, lawmakers are discussing a number of other issues in response to the Newtown killings. They include mental health funding and addressing the impact of violent video games and films on young minds.

"It's a complex problem that requires more than one solution," Carney said. "It calls not only for re-examining our gun laws -- and how well we enforce them -- but also for engaging mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, educators, parents and communities to find those solutions."

Carney specifically cited the efforts of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who says she plans to introduce legislation early next year to reinstate the assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004. Obama has voiced support in the past for a new assault weapons ban, but did little to push the issue during his first term.

Feinstein said Tuesday members of her staff and rewriting the old bill, which expired in 2004.

"We ban about 100 weapons by names and we also reduce the physical characteristic test to one," she said. "We grandfather existing weapons."

Feinstein said she has spoken to House and Senate Democrats as her staff drafts the new bill. She said she also wants to speak to Manchin. Reps. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., and Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., are leading House efforts on the assault weapons ban, Feinstein said.

So far, however, no Republican members have reached out to her, Feinstein said. But the fallout from the Newtown shooting means "this is a sea change," she said.

"I think everybody is stunned," Feinstein said. "I think there is a hope among people that don't want any action that well, once the grief of the moment is over, Americans will go on to other things," she said. "I really don't agree with that."

Although gun rights supporters of both acknowledged the change in tone regarding the issue, most hesitated Tuesday when asked about which types of legislation they would support.

"I'm very happy that the president's going to do everything he can administratively," Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told reporters. "We must engage on a thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence not continue to grow."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential 2016 presidential contender, expressed skepticism that a ban on assault weapons could prevent another mass shooting.

"I think we need to be informed and learn about this specific incident to see what policy changes could have prevented it," Rubio said. "But to be quite frank I've always been skeptical of the ability of gun laws and gun laws alone to prevent violent things like this from happening."

Rubio said he, like many members of Congress, was "haunted" the shooting. "I dropped my kids off at school yesterday and it was a different feeling from every other time I dropped them, because you realize how vulnerable we really all are to a random act of violence of such horrifying dimensions," he said.

Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., he supported Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's proposal to establish a commission on violence to investigate the mass shootings in Connecticut and elsewhere to prevent future acts of violence.

"I think we need to have the conversation about all aspects of this tragedy to see that it doesn't happen again," McCain said when asked if banning assault weapons could be part of the solution.

Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat up for re-election in 2014, said the nation's culture of violence and the issue of mentally impaired individuals obtaining guns needed to be discussed. When asked specifically about a ban on assault weapons, Begich stepped into an elevator and said, "Lot of discussion ahead of us" as the elevator doors closed.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., also said more needed to be done on mental health issues, particularly the sharing of information between agencies.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday: "The entire Congress is united in condemning the violence in Newtown, and on the need to enforce our laws. As we continue to learn the facts, Congress will examine whether there is an appropriate and constitutional response that would better protect our citizens."

Incoming House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., told CQ Roll Call he was in favor of reviewing what happened in Connecticut, but "gun control is not going to be something that I would support." The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over firearms regulations.

Meanwhile in Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill that would have allowed concealed weapons to be carried in churches, schools and daycares.


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