Senators Mark Warner (Lt) and Joe Manchin Photo: GETTY IMAGES/AP
Two US Senators became the first of America’s pro-gun advocates to break ranks on Monday night as they called for a ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings.
By Peter Foster, Washington
The two Senators – both Democrats but with “A” ratings and previous endorsements from the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby group – both spoke out to argue publicly that the death of 20 Year 2 children was a “game-changing” moment for America’s divisive gun debate.
“Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered. It’s never happened in America that I can recall, seeing this carnage,” said Senator Joe Manchin, who in 2010 released a political advert touting his NRA endorsement and showing him with a hunting rifle ‘taking aim’ at a piece of climate change legislation.
“Anybody that’s a proud gun owner, a proud member of the NRA, they’re also proud parents, they’re proud grandparents. They understand this has changed where we go from here,” the West Virginia senator said on MSNBC.
Those thoughts were later echoed by Mark Warner, a senator for the rural, gun-loving state of Virginia, who has said gun control could no longer be a subject for partisan feuding between Republicans and Democrats.
“I believe every American has Second Amendment rights, the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I’ve had a NRA (National Rifle Association) rating of an “A” but, you know, enough is enough,” Mr Warner said on CBS News
“It is time for this kind of senseless violence to end. There won’t be one perfect law to stop a crazy person from doing evil things. But when we have close to 30,000 killings a year from all types of gun violence, even if we save a few lives, we make progress.”
The remarks could put pressure on both the NRA and Republican pro-gun legislators to accept the need for tighter gun controls, particularly on assault rifles.
But in a sign of the political difficulties that lie ahead, since the Sandy Hook shootings last Friday both the NRA and all pro-gun Republican senators and congressman have remained silent.
The NBS’s influential “Meet the Press” program said it had contacted 31 pro-gun senators last weekend, but all had declined to appear.
But as the popular outrage continues to build, advocates of tighter gun control continued yesterday moved to seize the initiative on what is being viewed as the best opportunity for more than a decade to force through tougher gun laws.
That pressure continued to build on Mr Obama who promised the bereaved parents of Newtown he would use “whatever power this office holds” to prevent a repeat of more tragedies like Sandy Hook, although without directly specifying new legislation on gun control.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman refused to be drawn on specific measures at a briefing yesterday, but said that Mr Obama would be “moving forward” to address what he described as a “complex problem that will require a complex solution” of which gun controls formed only one part.
Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and fierce advocate of gun control, continued urge Mr Obama to take concrete action, staging an event in New York with gun-crime victims whose moving testimonies, he said, would be sent to every member of the new Congress that opens in January.
“If this moment passes from memory without action from Washington, it will be a stain up on our nations’ commitment to protect the innocent, including our children,” he said, calling for an immediate assault weapon ban and the enforcement of existing background checking laws.
He accused Congress of putting “partisan politics” above saving lives, point out the “outrage” that the only significant piece of gun legislation passed by Congress in almost 20 years was a bill to indemnify gun manufacturers from being sued by the victims of gun crime.
Public anger over the killings was also expressed on the White House website where a petition demanding the Obama administration act against the gun lobby had attracted more than 140,000 signatures.
“Powerful lobbying groups allow the ownership of guns to reach beyond the Constitution’s intended purpose of the right to bear arms,” the petition argued, “Therefore, Congress must act on what is stated law, and face the reality that access to firearms reaches beyond what the Second Amendment intends to achieve.”
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll which was conducted after the Newtown killings also suggested public support for legislation was slowly growing, with some 54 per cent of Americans in “favour stricter gun control laws” compared with 43 per cent who do not.
The number in favour of new controls represented a 3 per cent increase from the last time the survey was taken in May this year, but it still falls well short of the consistent 63-67pc support for tougher controls that persisted through the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Looking at the broader picture of all gun use in crime, it becomes clear that “assault weapons” are a minor part of the problem. Police gun seizure data from around the nation finds that “assault weapons” account for less than 2% of guns seized by the police; more typically, they account for less than 1%