Hill Democrats look to 'silent majority' on gun control
Last week's massacre in Colorado dominated the dialogue on Capitol Hill Tuesday as top Democrats called for a national conversation on gun control but declined to offer any new proposals on the hot button issue.
Citing the alleged shooter's use of an assault weapon equipped with a high capacity ammunition magazine that could fire 100 rounds, a group of congressional Democrats pressed for a ban on the sale of this type of ammunition. Similar legislation was introduced last year after a mass shooting in Tucson that left six dead and 13 wounded, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona.
While a number of senior Democratic leaders support this proposal, they haven't pushed for a vote on it. On Tuesday, they were quick to place blame for the lack of stricter gun control measures squarely at the feet of their GOP counterparts.
"We see what's in the (Republican-controlled) House and we see the power of the NRA around here," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York.
"The way to overcome it is for citizens, the silent majority," to speak out, he asserted, invoking a term made famous over 40 years ago by Republican President Richard Nixon.
"The Second Amendment can have reasonable limits," Schumer declared.
For their part, top Republicans made clear that new gun control laws have no chance of winning approval in Congress.
"I don't sense any movement among either Democrats or Republicans in the direction of thinking that stricter gun control laws would likely have prevented this horrible occurrence in Colorado," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters that Republicans are merely following the lead of President Barack Obama.
"The president has made clear that he's not going to use this horrific event to push for new gun laws, and I agree," Boehner told reporters.
While Obama visited victims of the massacre over the weekend, the White House appears to be wary of offending politically influential gun owners in the middle of a tough re-election fight.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Sunday that the "president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law. And that's his focus right now."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, avoided pointed questions on the issue on Tuesday.
"I'm not going to be here with each of you debating gun control," Reid told reporters. "I'm not going to be debating magazine size and other things."
Pelosi told CNN she's "concerned about the people who died (in Colorado) and getting all the facts as to how that happened."
The result: House members united in a moment of silence on Tuesday afternoon to mourn the death of 12 people and the wounding of dozens more. The Colorado delegation introduced a resolution honoring and commemorating the victims. But there was no hint of any agreement on policy proposals.
Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat and a gun control advocate, conceded that every time an incident similar to the Colorado shooting happens, those pushing for new restrictions can't get the votes to pass any new laws.
Another top House Democrat also acknowledged the continuing political difficulties of gun control advocates -- even within the more progressive Democratic caucus.
"If you look at polling data and the information, obviously one man's tea becomes another man's poison based on what ... region or (part of) the country that you're in," Connecticut Rep. John Larson told CNN. "We face some very strong opposition."
Forty-nine percent of Americans think it's more important to protect gun rights than to control gun ownership, according to an April 4-15 poll from the Pew Research Center. Forty-five percent believe gun control is more important.
Regardless, New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy -- elected to the House in the 1990s after her husband was killed in a shooting on the Long Island Railroad -- was one of several Democrats on Tuesday who urged members of both parties to support a ban on at least the type of high capacity ammunition magazine used in Aurora, Colorado.
"All we're hearing from the NRA is we're taking" away gun rights, McCarthy said. "This has nothing to do with Second Amendment rights." The magazine used by alleged gunman James Holmes was "made for military, for police. This is meant to kill as many people as possible" in the shortest possible period of time, she added.
"Let's be reasonable about what is acceptable," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey. "This is clearly about killing as many people as possible...You wouldn't shoot a deer with 100 bullets."
It's time for a national conversation to "crystallize the thinking of Americans" on gun control, he declared.
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, one of the most outspoken congressional proponents of gun control, insisted Tuesday he will not be deterred by long odds.
"There is almost a resignation to the futility of our mission," he told reporters. "But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue to mount the effort. That's where it falls. It falls in the Congress. So we will carry on."
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