Pro-gun Democrats shift their stance after massacre in Newtown

Several key Democrats on Monday said they were rethinking their opposition to gun control, in a sign that Friday's mass-murder in Connecticut has upended the congressional debate on firearms.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial MORE (D-Nev.) was among several Democratic defenders of gun rights to signal a new openness to legislative restrictions in the wake of the attack in Newtown, Conn.

“In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “We have no greater responsibility than keeping our most vulnerable and most precious resource — our children — safe. And every idea should be on the table as we discuss how best to do just that.”

The statement from Reid — who won praise from the National Rifle Association (NRA) in 2009 for helping to defeat renewal of the federal assault-weapons ban — was just one indication of a shifting political landscape on gun control.

Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: EPA aims to work more closely with industry Overnight Finance: Lawmakers grill Equifax chief over hack | Wells Fargo CEO defends bank's progress | Trump jokes Puerto Rico threw budget 'out of whack' | Mortgage tax fight tests industry clout Lawmakers try again on miners’ pension bill MORE (D-W.Va.) and Mark. Warner (D-Va.), both strong supporters of gun rights, indicated they could support federal gun-control measures as well. 

“I've been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights,” Warner said Monday outside the Virginia Capitol, according to The Washington Post. “I’ve got an A rating from the NRA. But the status quo isn’t acceptable. I’ve got three daughters. They asked me on Friday evening, ‘Dad, what are you gonna do about this?’ There’s got to be a way to put reasonable restrictions, particularly as we look at assault weapons, as we look at these fast clips of ammunition.”

Manchin said the shooting rampage should cause every member of Congress to reconsider the legality of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“This awful massacre of our youngest children has changed us, and everything should be on the table,” he said in a statement. “I ask all of my colleagues to sit down with a seriousness of purpose to address the causes of these tragic crimes, including mental-health treatment, military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and our culture, which seems to glorify violence more than ever in our video games and movies.”

Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old man who attacked the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, used a Bushmaster assault rifle, designed for urban combat, to execute his victims at close range with multiple high-powered shots before committing suicide, according to reports. 

In past years, Reid has stood apart from Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGun proposal picks up GOP support Durbin: I had 'nothing to do' with Curbelo snub Republicans jockey for position on immigration MORE (Ill.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking Democratic leader, on gun control. Reid was endorsed by the NRA in 2004 and received money from the group in the 2010 election cycle, while Durbin and Schumer are two outspoken proponents of firearms restrictions. 

Reid might now be moving closer to Durbin and Schumer on the issue.

“It’s premature to conclude there is a divide now based on past statements, because Newtown changed everything,” said a senior Democratic aide.  

Moving Reid, who controls the Senate agenda, would be crucial to passing gun legislation through Congress. Any new initiative regulating guns and ammunition would have to start in the Senate, experts say. 

“The guy I think is pivotal on this is Harry Reid,” said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who supported gun locks, the ban on assault rifles and closure of the so-called gun-show loophole when he served in the House. “If Reid were to move on this, I think it takes on a little bit of a different context.” 

Davis noted that Reid represents a state where guns are popular and must protect vulnerable colleagues who represent rural states with vibrant gun cultures in the 2014 election.

Democratic Sens. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBernie Sanders flexes power on single-payer ObamaCare architect supports single-payer system Trump has yet to travel west as president MORE (Mont.), Mark BegichMark Peter BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (Alaska), Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.), Tim JohnsonTim JohnsonCourt ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada Bank lobbyists counting down to Shelby’s exit Former GOP senator endorses Clinton after Orlando shooting MORE (S.D.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenHomeland Security searching some social media doesn't violate privacy The feds shouldn't blackball Kaspersky without public evidence Week ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny MORE (N.H.) and Kay HaganKay HaganLinking repatriation to job creation Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock MORE (N.C.) face reelection in 2014 in states with avid hunting cultures.

Ladd Everitt, director of communications at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said Manchin’s remarks were significant. 

“What Joe Manchin said was absolutely stunning,” he said. “Joe Manchin has never lifted a finger to address the issue of gun violence and he never made comments in the past that we would [have] deemed as favorable.” 

The NRA has suspended media interviews since the Newtown shootings and declined a request for comment.

Schumer said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that the rampage in Newtown was a “tipping point” in the debate over gun control.

He listed three possible reforms: reinstating the 1994 federal assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004; limiting the size of ammunition clips; and making it more difficult for people suffering from mental illness to acquire firearms. 

Democrats are lining up with their own proposals.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGun proposal picks up GOP support Gingrich: Banning rapid fire gun modification is ‘common sense’ House bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance MORE (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Sunday pledged to introduce legislation on the first day of the new Congress that would reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has promised to introduce legislation banning high-capacity gun magazines. 

Despite the new renewed political push on guns, Republicans who have supported gun-control efforts in the past warn it will not be easy to get legislation through the Senate or House.

“It depends what it is, but I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Davis said of the prospect of passing a gun-control bill through the House. “You want to see where Sen. Reid is on the Democratic side before anything else happens, and I think the House is tough. 

“It would have to come from president and the Senate before anything moves in the House, if it even has a shot,” he said.

Former Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who helped author the 1993 Gun Control Act and supported the reauthorization of the assault-weapons ban, said it would be tough to win support from Republicans and Democrats representing rural areas. 

“Republicans support it, and you’re not going to see a lot of Democrats west of the Mississippi support it,” he said. 

Shays says he has come to see the ban on assault weapons as ineffective. He said limiting the capacity of magazines and requiring people who purchase weapons at gun shows to undergo background checks would make more sense. 

“If I was honest with myself, I didn’t see any impact on crime,” he said of the assault weapons ban. “There should be support for some gun control, but assault weapons is not one of them. Gun shows, maybe the number of rounds in magazines, that kind of stuff has merit.”