US starts to debate gun law

US starts to debate gun law

US starts to debate gun law

Citizens protest National Rifle Association, demanding the pro-gun lobby stand down in reaction to the Connecticut shooting. The US has begun a discussion on reforming gun laws. AFP photo

The U.S. has begun a discussion on reforming gun laws following last week’s mass shooting at an elementary school whose scale has even convinced some gun-rights advocates about the need to debate restrictions on firearms.

The attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, appears to have provided a tipping point in a debate that has been dormant for years.

“Everything should be on the table,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin declared Dec. 17, while Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa proposed a study of both gun violence and mental health issues.

Virginia’s Mark Warner, one of the few Senate Democrats who has found favor with gun rights groups, also reversed course to back restrictions on assault weapons.

Twenty children and six adults were killed when Ryan Lanza, 20, stormed the school with a high-powered military-style rifle and other guns. The assailant committed suicide after the rampage.

White House officials said President Barack Obama feels some urgency to address gun violence in the wake of the violence, but he is not expected to take any formal action before the end of the year. It was also unclear what Obama would pursue or how, with aides saying stricter gun laws would only be part of any effort. After Newtown, Obama has vowed to use “whatever power this office holds” to safeguard children against gun violence, suggesting he may put political muscle behind an assault weapons ban.

No specific agenda

However, the White House said Dec. 17 it so far has “no specific agenda” to announce on preventing shooting massacres, as a clamor grew among Democrats and in the media for action on tighter gun controls. At

the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said stricter gun control laws were part of the solution but not the only one. He said the president would engage in “the coming weeks” in a process that includes input from law enforcement, mental health experts and lawmakers.

“It’s a complex problem that will require a complex solution,” Carney said. “No single piece of legislation, no single action will fully address the problem.”

The president met with Vice President Joe Biden and a handful of Cabinet members to begin discussions on ways the country should respond to the Newtown shootings. Among those in attendance were Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Public opinion has shifted against tougher gun control in recent years, and the gun lobby is a powerful political force, particularly in Republican primaries. Obama has also called for a national dialogue after other mass shootings during his presidency, only to see those efforts take a backseat to other pressing issues.

The American public has been split over tougher gun laws, and there is no early indication that the Newtown shootings are changing many minds.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted over the weekend showed 54 percent favor tougher laws, about the same as the 51 percent in favor 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.

Compiled from AP and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.