Boehner calls for 'discussion' on guns

Republicans need to "have a discussion on guns" in the wake of last week's grade-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told his conference Tuesday.

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Speaking to his troops at a closed-door meeting in the Capitol, Boehner was mindful of conservatives' traditional opposition to new gun restrictions, emphasizing that Republicans wouldn't do "anything knee-jerk," according to a lawmaker in the room. 

But the Speaker also said he wants to "de-politicize" the issue of gun violence, which has been thrust dreadfully into the national spotlight following the murder of 26 people — 20 of them young school children — at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday.

Since the massacre, President Obama and a long list of congressional Democrats have urged tougher gun laws — including a reinstatement of the assault-weapons ban and the elimination of the gun-show loophole — but GOP leaders have remained largely silent about a violence-prevention strategy. The discrepancy has lent partisan undertones to the Sandy Hook response that Boehner clearly wants to eliminate.

Boehner said the GOP's strategy would be to examine the reasons that the mass shootings of recent years have been carried out, almost exclusively, by young, white males with mental illnesses, according to the lawmaker in the room.

"We need to have a discussion about guns," the lawmaker said, relaying Boehner's remarks, "and that doesn't mean that all of a sudden we abandon the Second Amendment or the NRA [National Rifle Association] or anything like that. But there needs to be a discussion and everybody needs to participate and we need to depoliticize it."

Boehner also told Republicans that they need to be "circumspect" in their observations, the lawmaker said, warning that "it's not helpful" for lawmakers to call for arming teachers as a way to prevent mass shootings. 

That remark was a not-so-veiled shot at Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who churned headlines Sunday when he lamented that one of the victims, Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, was unarmed during the attack. 

"I wish to God she had an M-4 in her office locked up so when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids,” Gohmert said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

The massacre — coming so close to the holidays and targeting such young kids — has put the NRA and other opponents of gun reform in a tough spot. Indeed, two Sunday news-show hosts — CBS’ Bob Schieffer and NBC’s David Gregory — said they struggled this week to find gun-rights supporters who'd agree to interviews. And the NRA was silent on the tragedy until Tuesday, when the group issued a brief statement vowing "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

Boehner's comments Tuesday — an indication that GOP leaders view that silence as a losing strategy — mark a shift for the Ohio Republican, who has shown no interest in gun reform in the face of other recent mass shootings. 

Indeed, after the February shooting death of three students at Chardon High School not far from his district, Boehner rejected the call for new gun laws, suggesting tougher rules would not keep criminals from obtaining firearms. Instead, Boehner called on gun owners not to shoot other people.

"Let's be honest, there are about 250 million guns in America," he said at the time. "So they are out there, but people should use them responsibly."

Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) noted the change on Tuesday, telling The Hill that the mood in the conference among "even the strongest gun supporters" is that they "don't object to having a conversation about it — which is a big shift."