Politics 2013: All sides wrestle with how to address gun violence

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International
Politics 2013: All sides wrestle with how to address gun violence
Tom Harvey (L) and his wife Pat Powers, of Rockville, Md., hold a gun control banner in front of the White House Dec. 15 in the aftermath of the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 dead, including 20 children. UPI/Mike Theiler | License Photo

The battle lines have been drawn for what has become one of the most volatile issues for Americans: gun violence and what can or should be done to curb it.

Ever since Adam Lanza killed his mother then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., opened fire and killed 20 school children and six adults before taking his own life, Americans have been asking what can be done and how far should any action go.


On one side, led by the Obama administration, gun control advocates are pushing to finally renew an assault weapons ban that has been left dormant ever since it expired in 2004.

Obama, soon after the tragedy in Newtown, called for a comprehensive, multifront approach, saying the complexity of dealing with gun violence "can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing. The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence, doesn't mean that we can't steadily reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence."


He called on Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban, require background checks for all gun purchases and ban high-capacity clips.

On the other side, there is the powerful National Rifle Association, whose reach is long and deep in Washington and state capitals, which, after days of silence following the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, expressed sympathy for the families of the victims while calling for an armed presence in every school in the United States as a deterrent and advocating no changes be made to current gun control laws.

Gun enthusiasts warned that renewing the assault weapons ban or extending background checks to gun shows would be the start of a slippery slope toward confiscation of all guns.

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Obama tasked Vice President Joe Biden "to lead an effort to include members of my Cabinet and outside organizations" to develop concrete proposals.

After meeting with many constituencies-- including those affected by gun violence, healthcare professionals, law enforcement officials, lobbyists, retailers and entertainment leaders -- and hearing a multitude of points of view, Biden said anti-gun violence proposals would reach Obama's desk by Tuesday, including what he called "universal background checks, not just closing the gun show loophole."


Biden also said Obama may use executive action to help stop gun violence.

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"The president is going to act," Biden said. "Executive order, executive action that can be taken -- we haven't decided what that is yet. But we're compiling it all with the help of the attorney general and all the rest of the Cabinet members, as well as legislative action we believe is required."

Biden, fresh from negotiating a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that averted the "fiscal cliff," also made it clear he was receptive to compromise and committed to action.

"This is a problem that requires immediate attention," he said last week following the first day of meetings. "I want to make clear that we're not going to get caught up in the notion that, unless we can do everything, we're going to do nothing."

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After meeting with Biden, the NRA said in a statement it attended the session to "discuss how to keep our children safe" and to "have a meaningful conversation about school safety, mental health issues, the marketing of violence to our kids and the collapse of federal prosecutions of violent criminals," the Post said.

The organization, based in Fairfax, Va., said it was disappointed "with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment."


"We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen," the NRA said. "Instead, we will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of Congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works -- and what does not."

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The Obama administration also was considering funding many more police officers in public schools to secure campuses, a leading Democratic senator said, as part of its broad anti-gun violence agenda.

The school safety initiative would make federal dollars available to schools wanting to hire police officers and install surveillance equipment, but isn't nearly as far-reaching as the NRA's proposal for armed guards in every U.S. school, the Post said.

Among the congressional members who likely will play a key role in any gun legislation introduced, The Washington Post listed Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a gun enthusiast who in his 2010 Senate race ran an ad that showed him firing a gun at President Obama's cap-and-trade bill. After Newtown, Manchin said he was open to dialogue on guns in society.

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The Post also listed Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a long-time supporter of more gun control who pledged to introduce an assault weapons ban in the 113th Congress.


Other organizations active in the effort to enact tighter gun controls include liberal special interest groups, labor unions and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led and financed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Post said.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head by a gunman two years ago at a congressional meet-and-greet in Tucson, last week launched a website urging gun violence curbs.

"Two years ago, a mentally ill young man shot me in the head, killed six of my constituents, and wounded 12 others," Giffords, D-Ariz., wrote on "Since that terrible day, America has seen 11 more mass shootings -- but no response from Congress to prevent gun violence."

Giffords retired from Congress last year to focus on recuperating after she was shot in the head in January 2011 at a congressional meet-and-greet outside of a Tucson grocery store. She was among the 13 injured; a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge were among the six dead.

But what do average Americans say?

Considered a turnaround from previous polls, a slim majority of Americans said they consider the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary a sign of broader societal problems, not an isolated act committed by a troubled individual, a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll indicated. Fifty-two percent said they saw it as a symptom of broader issues and 43 percent said it was an isolated incident.


The poll also indicated other changes in the gun control theater.

For the first time since 2007, significantly more people said they strongly favor than strongly oppose stricter laws, 44 percent to 32 percent, respectively. The number of Americans advocating stricter enforcement of existing laws over new legislation slipped to less than 50 percent for the first time since 2000, chiefly among Democrats.

In another poll, this one by Gallup, Americans were most likely to say an increased police presence at schools, more government spending on mental health screening and treatment, and less depiction of gun violence in entertainment would be effective in preventing mass shootings at schools.

The same poll indicated Americans ranked the potential effectiveness of a ban on assault and semi-automatic guns fourth on a list of six actions Gallup surveyed.

Americans were least likely to say arming at least one school official at every school and the news media refusing to publicize the name of the shooter would be very effective strategies, the Princeton, N.J., polling agency said.

And as Biden was announcing next steps last week, another school shooting was reported in California. Police said one student was injured, another student was in custody and a shotgun was recovered.


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