Dem leaders voice support for assault weapons ban, other reforms

The head of the House Democratic Caucus said Tuesday that Congress should “absolutely” ban the sale of assault weapons in the wake of last week's fatal shooting rampage in Colorado.

Many Democratic leaders have been wary of making a full-throated push for such a ban since House Democrats were swept from the majority in 1994 – a bruising loss some observers have linked to the Democrats’ gun reforms earlier that year.

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But Rep. John Larson (Conn.) said Tuesday that Congress shouldn’t shy away from the issue simply because it's tough politically.

“It's getting to that point where you just have to say to yourself, ‘Boy, this just doesn't make sense,’ ” Larson told reporters in the Capitol.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer delivered a similar message Tuesday. The Maryland Democrat noted that an assault weapons ban faces enormous hurdles with Republicans controlling the House, but suggested such reforms are possible if President Obama and Democratic gun reformers take their case directly to the public.

“We need to create a national consensus that restraints on the availability of weapons that can kill a lot of people very quickly are appropriate,” Hoyer said.

Obama has not endorsed any new laws in the wake of last week’s shootings in a packed movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where a gunman shot 71 people, killing 12.

The suspect in that case allegedly used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in the attack – a firearm that was banned by the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. Law enforcers say the shooter also carried a shotgun and a Glock, though it is the assault rifle that allowed him to get off so many rounds.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), who represents Aurora, was one of the first Democrats to call for a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban in the wake of the tragedy.

Larson said he "just doesn't fathom how it is that assault weapons are needed" outside of law enforcement and the military, and predicted Democrats will begin pushing harder for reforms when the shock of the Colorado tragedy dissipates.

"Decorum dictated that we not launch into that type of discussion," Larson said after Tuesday's meeting. "We will, but this wasn't the caucus to do it.

"I think you will see other attempts on our part to raise this issue within the Congress and with the American people," he added.