WASHINGTON - Some Republicans now say they're willing to discuss the politically treacherous issue of gun control, along with mental health issues and violent video games, while President Barack Obama said he supports efforts in Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban in the wake of last week's Connecticut school shooting.
Republicans in the House of Representatives discussed the gun issue at their regular closed-door meeting Tuesday, and at least some were willing to consider gun control as part of a solution to the kind of violence that killed 26 people, including 20 children 6 and 7 years old.
The massacre, one of the worst mass shootings in U.S history, has rattled the usual national dialogue on guns in America, where public opinion had shifted against tougher gun control in recent years and the gun lobby is a powerful political force.
Obama has called for "meaningful action" and met with Cabinet members Monday on how to respond. He has long supported reinstating the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, but was quiet on the issue during his first term. Obama has said he believes the Constitution's Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama is "actively supportive" of reinstating an assault weapons ban and would also support legislation to close the gun show "loophole," which allows people to buy guns from private dealers without background checks.
The president was not expected to take any formal action on guns before the end of the year, given the all-consuming efforts to resolve tax and deficit-reduction talks and nominate new Cabinet secretaries.
The most powerful supporter of gun owners, the National Rifle Association, broke its silence Tuesday, four days after the school shooting. After a self-imposed media blackout that left many wondering how it would respond to the killings, it said in a statement that its members were "shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders."
The group also said it wanted to give families time to mourn before making its first public statements. The organization pledged "to help to make sure this never happens again" and has scheduled a news conference for Friday.
As shares in publicly traded gun manufacturers were dropping for a third straight day Tuesday, the largest firearms maker in the United States said it is being put up for sale by its owner, which called last week's school shooting a "watershed event" in the American debate over gun control.
Freedom Group International makes Bushmaster rifles, the weapons thought to have been used in Friday's killings.
The New York-based private equity group Cerberus Capital Management — which invests money on behalf of public employees like teachers, among other clients — said it will sell its controlling stake in the company, while investors fled other firearms makers.
After Tuesday's meeting of Republicans, Congressman Jack Kingston said that nothing should be done immediately.
"Put guns on the table, also put video games on the table, put mental health on the table," he said. "There is a time for mourning and a time to sort it out."
Formerly pro-gun Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said "a thoughtful debate about how to change laws" is coming soon. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said Monday that the debate must include guns and mental health. And NRA member Sen. Joe Manchin, another Democrat, agreed it's time to begin an honest discussion about gun control and said he wasn't afraid of the political consequences.
It's too early to say what could emerge next year in Congress, but the comments are significant. Grassley is senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which probably would take the first action on any gun control legislation. Reid sets the Senate schedule. And Manchin defied the NRA while the politically powerful pro-gun group has remained silent since Friday's massacre.
At the state level, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation that would have allowed concealed weapons in churches, schools and daycare centres. The Republican governor told The Associated Press Monday he was scrutinizing the bill after the massacre in Connecticut. He also drew on his own memories of a fatal shooting in his college dormitory more than three decades ago.
Snyder said in a release Tuesday that public venues need clear legal authority to ban firearms "if they see fit to do so."
In California, proposed legislation would increase the restrictions on purchasing ammunition by requiring buyers to get a permit, undergo a background check and pay a fee.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Mayors wrote Obama and Congress calling for "stronger gun laws, a reversal of the culture of violence in this country, a commission to examine violence in the nation, and more adequate funding for the mental health system."
Specifically, the mayors asked for:
—A ban on assault weapons and other high-capacity magazines, like those reportedly used in the school shooting.
—Strengthening the national background check system for gun purchasers.
—Strengthening the penalties for straw purchases of guns, in which legal buyers acquire weapons for other people.
Reid told the Senate, "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."
His comments mark a shift in his approach to the issue.
After a mass shooting in July at a Colorado theatre left 12 people dead, Reid said the Senate's schedule was too busy to have a debate on gun control.
And after 32 people were killed in 2007 at Virginia Tech, Reid cautioned against a "rush to judgment" about new gun laws.
In 2010, top NRA official Wayne LaPierre called Reid "a true champion" of gun rights.
Other Republicans said mental health, not guns, was the problem.
"There are just evil people in the world. There's nothing you're going to do to prevent evil from occurring," Rep. Virginia Foxx said.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted over the weekend showed 54 per cent in the U.S. favour tougher laws, about the same as the 51 per cent in favour earlier in the year. Seven in 10 are opposed to banning the sale of handguns to anyone except law enforcement officers, the highest percentage since 1999.
Associated Press writer Larry Margasak contributed.
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