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Gun control gets unlikely backers on Capitol Hill

December 18, 2012 | National News

WASHINGTON - Signaling that the horrific shooting at a Connecticut elementary school could be a tipping point in a debate that has been dormant for years, prominent gun rights advocates in Congress are now calling for a national discussion about restrictions to curb gun violence.

“Everything should be on the table,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., declared Monday. He is a conservative Democrat, avid hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed a debate not just about guns but also about mental health issues.

White House officials said President Barack Obama would make preventing gun violence a second-term policy priority, but it was unclear what he would pursue or how. Aides said stricter gun laws would be only part of any effort.

On the day that the first two young Connecticut victims were laid to rest, the president met Monday with Vice President Joe Biden and a handful of Cabinet members to begin discussions on ways the country should respond to the massacre. Among the attendees were Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

It remains to be seen whether Obama and Congress can turn their rhetoric into action or whether the shock over the Connecticut shootings will fade before they do. Public opinion has shifted against tougher gun control in recent years, and the gun lobby is a powerful political force, particularly in Republican primaries. Also, Obama has called for a national dialogue after other mass shootings during his presidency, only to see those efforts take a back seat to other issues.

This time, Obama has vowed to use “whatever power this office holds” to safeguard the nation’s children against gun violence, suggesting he may put muscle behind an assault weapons ban.

He has long supported reinstating the ban, which expired in 2004, but never pressed for it in his first term. Liberal Democrats in Congress are already laying the groundwork for legislation to outlaw the military-style arms.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed Congress would soon “engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow.” The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on gun violence early next year.

Twenty children and six adults were killed when a gunman carrying a high-powered military-style rifle and other guns stormed Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Friday morning.

Since the shootings, the NRA has been silent. Requests for comments have gone unanswered, and officials are turning down interview requests until they have more details.

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