WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A day after the Connecticut elementary school massacre, a senior congressional Democrat on Saturday called on U.S. lawmakers to pass sweeping new gun control measures including banning assault weapons and high-capacity clips, saying, “Politics be damned.”
Representative John Larson, chairman of the House of Representatives Democratic Caucus, gave a list of specific policies he wanted the U.S. Congress to vote on quickly after the mass shooting in his home state of Connecticut.
U.S. lawmakers have not approved a major new gun law since 1994, and they let a ban on certain semiautomatic rifles known as assault weapons expire in 2004.
Hours after Friday’s rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Barack Obama called for the federal government to prevent mass shootings “regardless of politics,” but did not offer details on policies he would seek. He reiterated his commitment to “meaningful action” during his weekly radio address on Saturday.
Twenty-eight people died in the incident - 20 schoolchildren and six adults shot at the school, one woman at another nearby site and the gunman.
The incident put renewed pressure on Obama and other Democrats to reverse their years of caution about gun control laws and address the easy availability of firearms. However, gun control supporters face a Republican-led House that could block such measures.
“There may not be a single cure-all for the violence in our nation, however we must start the process and begin the deeper and longer conversations that need to take place. Politics be damned,” Larson said in a statement.
“Of the 12 deadliest shootings in our nation’s history, half of them have happened in the last five years. And there is not a single person in America who doesn’t fear it will happen again.”
Larson said Congress must quickly vote on measures that include requiring background checks for all gun sales, closing “loopholes” on the terrorist watch list and banning assault weapons and high-capacity clips.
Other Democrats, including Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy and California Representative George Miller, are calling for stricter gun control after the shootings.
Blumenthal and Miller said they believe the nation should have a “conversation” about gun control, but Blumenthal declined to discuss his ideas at depth so soon after the shootings, saying he wanted to show respect to the families of the victims.
McCarthy, whose husband was killed by a gunman on a commuter train in 1993, said in a statement: “I agree, now is not the time to talk about gun laws - the time for that conversation was long before all those kids in Connecticut died.”
McCarthy and other Democrats, who traditionally support gun control, voiced skepticism about the call Obama made for “meaningful action,” mostly because of his lack of specificity.
“I‘m not sure if the president meant it or if it was just more rhetoric,” a senior Democratic congressional aide said on Saturday. “But if anything is ever going to happen on gun control, now is the time. He is in a perfect position to act.”
The aide said Obama should take advantage of having just won a second term, which means he can act without worrying about voter repercussions in the polls or donors withdrawing dollars.
Faced with intense lobbying by the National Rifle Association and other gun groups, and fearful of a backlash from gun-owning voters, most Democrats have stopped trying to pass new laws.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA did not donate money to Obama during this year’s presidential election but sent funds to his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
In total, it donated $634,146 to Republicans during the 2012 election and $85,450 to Democrats.
Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Steve Holland and David Ingram; Editing by Mohammad Zargham