Searching for a way to prevent future shootings like those in Newtown, some of Connecticut’s top federal officials called Sunday for a national discussion that could lead to a resumed federal ban on assault weapons and other gun control measures.
U.S. Rep. John B. Larson was the most outspoken on gun control, an issue which prompts many politicians to take a hands-off approach as they support the Second Amendment.
But on Sunday, some politicians said the deaths of 28 people, including 20 children, could prove to be the final straw for some politicians who see the cumulative impact of multiple shootings around the country. Those include the mass slayings at Columbine High School in Colorado and the more recent movie theatre shootings in Colorado.
“There’s a point where you have to say enough,” Larson said in the live television interview. “How many more of these are we going to have to witness? … We know this will happen again if we don’t take action. … Not to act is to be complicit. We have a responsibility to take action.”
Larson, an East Hartford Democrat who is currently the fourth-highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representative, said he was not calling for across-the-board restrictions on gun ownership that would impact law-abiding gun owners.
“This is trying to prevent another massacre,” Larson said. “I could point to shootings in Hartford and New Haven and Bridgeport. There is a culture of violence.”
Overall, 12 girls and 8 boys were killed in the shootings Friday at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in the small town of 27,000 that is widely seen as an idyllic New England suburb.
“Seeing those little faces, perhaps that will be the thing that gets everybody to move,” Larson said. “This continues to be a problem, whether you go back to Columbine” or other mass shootings across the country.
President Obama, who traveled to Connecticut on Sunday, had said Friday that the nation needed to take “meaningful action” in the near future “regardless of the politics.” Also Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said she would author a renewed assault weapon ban when the new Congress convenes. U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman said Sunday on Fox News that the federal assault weapons ban, which was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and expired after a decade in 2004, should be restored.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told The Courant’s Jon Lender on Sunday that he hopes to speak on the Senate floor this week about specific proposals on banning both assault weapons and “high capacity magazines” that contain more than 10 rounds because “both had a role in this tragedy.”
“Certainly this horrific, brutal tragedy will transform the national debate and spur consideration of more aggressive gun violence-prevention measures,” including reinstatement of an expired federal ban on assault weapons such as the one Adam Lanza used in the school massacre, Blumenthal said in a telephone interview Sunday.
Lanza used a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle with at least three 30-round magazines in his rampage. Blumenthal said in addition to the assault weapons, lawmakers also should address the high-velocity, damaging ammunition used in them.
“Assault weapons have their primary purpose as killing and maiming human beings by firing highly powerful and very rapid-velocity rounds,” Blumenthal said. “Some facts emerging about what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School indicate that the killer had enough ammunition essentially to shoot everybody in the school,” and the attack only ended when Lanza shot himself as police arrived. “Otherwise, he could have continued. … He had hundreds of rounds.”
Blumenthal talked on the phone with The Courant shortly before a Sunday evening vigil in Newtown that was attended by President Obama. Since the killings Friday, “my focus has been on Newtown and the grief and pain that really is still very deep and powerful among families and members of the community.”
But he said “there needs to be a debate” on adopting “measures that help assure that people who intend to do harm to other people, whether to kill or maim them, are prevented from having these kinds of weapons.”
“I approach this issue with somewhat unique experience,” Blumenthal said, noting that he had a high-level background as a criminal prosecutor as former U.S. attorney for Connecticut, and later as the state’s highest-ranking civil law officer, attorney general, from 1991 to 2011. As attorney general, Blumenthal said he successfully defended the state’s still-existing ban on assault weapons against a legal challenge that rose to the state’s Supreme Court.
Blumenthal said he didn’t know whether he would try to introduce a bill in the short time remaining in the current lame-duck session of Congress. He said he would be reaching out to colleagues to see if they also want to bring up the issue. “The point is not so much to introduce a measure in the last two weeks of this session, but rather to begin a serious debate … which I think will be transformed by the horror and pain felt across the country.”
Blumenthal and incoming U.S. Senator Chris Murphy both appeared live Sunday with host Candy Crowley on CNN to discuss the shootings.
Blumenthal said some officials have told him that legislative action must be taken to ban assault weapons and limit high-capacity magazines that can be attached to assault weapons and allow numerous bullets to be shot with lightning speed. “I think there is renewed focus on this issue,” Blumenthal said.
“I don’t think I will ever forget the cries of grief and pain I saw at the firehouse on that day,” Blumenthal told Crowley.
Blumenthal also appeared later on MSNBC, saying he was looking for bipartisan common ground. “We can put aside the politics today,” Blumenthal said.
Connecticut already has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation, but that does not prevent anyone from buying guns in other states and bringing them to the Nutmeg State. Connecticut passed a statewide ban on assault weapons in 1993, while federal action was taken later by Congress. The federal assault weapon ban, however, is not in force because it has expired.
In national surveys, Connecticut is often ranked fourth or fifth among the toughest gun laws in the country, officials said.
Murphy added that “the tipping point” should have occurred “a long time ago” to take legislative moves to stop future mass shootings.
Referring to Newtown, Murphy said, ”This is the quintessential, idyllic New England community. The closeness of this town makes the grieving even worse. … But frankly, it will be one of the things that lets this community heal.”
In Hartford, no final decisions have been made on exactly how the state legislature might proceed on the issue.
On “Face the Nation” on CBS, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said the Newtown shootings could prompt new gun control restrictions because of the number of children involved. This shooting, he said, is different than many of the others and could prompt Congress to reinstitute the federal assault weapons ban that has since expired.
“We could be at a tipping point,” said Schumer, a liberal Democrat who was the U.S. House author of the federal assault weapons ban. “I’m hopeful there can be some kind of change.”
Later, national teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten also said the magnitude of the Newtown shootings is different. ”I think this is a turning point here. I can feel it and hear it,” she said.
After Schumer appeared on CBS, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was interviewed on CBS by longtime host Bob Schieffer.
“This is mental illness, dressed in evil,” Malloy said.
There have been media reports that Lanza had autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
When asked if there should be increased federal gun control laws, Malloy said, “I haven’t had a whole lot of time to think about the national implications.”
On CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy also called for increased gun control. McCarthy rose to national prominence on gun issues after the Long Island Railroad shootings that killed her husband and injured her son aboard a commuter train that was heading toward the affluent suburb of Garden City in Nassau County. The Long Island shootings by now-convicted murdered Colin Ferguson occurred on December 7, 1993 – almost exactly to the date of the Newtown shootings of December 14.
“Let’s come together to get this right for our children’s sake,” McCarthy said on CBS.
Later on CNN with Candy Crowley, McCarthy said the deaths of the children have changed attitudes around the country.
“The heavy lifting is going to have to come from Congress, and it will,” McCarthy said. “The attitudes of the American people are a little bit different than they were before Friday.”
Later on CBS, longtime Connecticut state police spokesman Lt. Paul Vance was interviewed by Schieffer. When asked if police know the reason why Lanza acted as he did, Vance said, “We don’t have that specific answer.”
Schieffer asked about any possible suicide notes and whether computers had been smashed by Lanza. Vance said that all the evidence was being reviewed.