President Obama, Sen. Dianne Feinstein Support Assault Weapons Ban
Even Conservative Republicans, like Sen. Joe Manchin are changing opinion
December 17, 2012
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House said President Barack Obama supports reinstatement of a federal ban on assault weapons -- a position he took in the 2008 campaign but failed to press during his first term.
“It does remain a commitment of his,” presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters as the nation reeled from a mass shooting in Connecticut that mainly killed school children.
An emotional Obama did not address that issue directly in a televised statement from the White House on the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that killed 26 people but said something had to be done.
“We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” said Obama, the father of two girls. He wiped away tears when he spoke of the “beautiful little kids” killed in the massacre.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein vowed Sunday to introduce legislation that would ban assault weapons. Police recovered three weapons from the scene: a semiautomatic .223-caliber rifle made by Bushmaster, a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both handguns, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.
Others also spoke out for a strong federal response.
“We cannot simply accept this as a routine product of modern American life. If now is not the time to have a serious discussion about gun control and the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our society, I don't know when is,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said in a statement.
Congress approved a ban on assault weapons in 1994. The prohibition, which expired in 2004, did not eliminate them, but restricted their features, limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds and regulating pistol grips, bayonet attachments and flash suppressors.
Gun rights generally divide Americans.
A Pew poll conducted after the 2011 assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, that killed six other people, found that 49 percent of Americans said it was “more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns,” while 46 percent said it was “more important to control gun ownership.”
But a survey conducted by CNN/ORC International in August shortly after the deadly theater mass shooting earlier this year in Aurora, Colorado, found that 76 percent of those surveyed believe “there should be some restrictions on owning guns.”
Obama supported a platform while running for president in 2008 that included reinstating the assault weapons ban, but has largely avoided the issue of gun control during his first term.
He wrote an opinion piece two months after the Giffords shooting acknowledging the importance of the Second Amendment right to bear arms and called for a “focus” on “effective steps that will actually keep those irresponsible, law-breaking few from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.”
Obama said at a presidential debate in October that he wanted a “broader conversation” in general about reducing gun violence.
“Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced,” he said.
The National Rifle Association, which advocates for gun rights, said in a statement it would not have anny comment on the Connecticut shooting “until the facts are thoroughly known.”
Kristin Goss, an associate professor of public policy and political science at Duke University and author of “Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America” earlier this year that the pro gun control side of the issue “has struggled to come up with a compelling narrative” to convince more people to support stricter gun laws.
“For a long time, these gun violence rates and massacres speak for themselves. They relied on that to make the case but were up against a very powerful but very well disciplined and skillful army that was good at taking those arguments apart,” Goss said.
Even some conservative Republicans seem to be changing their positions on the issue. Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia and “proud gun owner,” said Monday he believes last week's Connecticut elementary school shooting should be the tipping point in the debate over limiting gun rights.
“I just came with my family from deer hunting. I've never had more than three shells in a clip. Sometimes you don't get more than one shot anyway at a deer,” Manchin said on MSNBC's “Morning Joe.” “It's common sense. It's time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common sense discussion and move in a reasonable way.”
While Democratic lawmakers took to the airwaves this weekend to call for congressional action on gun control, the few Republicans who did speak out pointed to numerous court cases that have upheld Second Amendment rights and said guns are needed as mechanisms for self-defense.
Manchin, who has an 'A' rating with the National Rifle Association, said the gun rights debate is not about vilifying the Second Amendment but a need to prevent another mass shooting like the one in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 20 children and six adults dead.
“This has changed the dialogue, and it should move beyond dialogue,” he said. “We need action.”
The senator was re-elected this year and doesn't face another election until 2016, giving him ample room to take political stances unpopular with his base.
Manchin pointed to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who announced Sunday she will re-introduce an assault weapons ban when Congress reconvenes in January.
“Anyone saying they don't want to talk and sit down and have that type of dialogue is wrong,” he said.
The senator said he believes that “seeing the massacre of so many innocent children has changed” opinions.
“I want to call all our friends in the NRA, sit down and bring them into it,” he said. “We all have to be at the table.”