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At US Capitol, gun-control advocates are met with ‘silence’

Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 10:11 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON (MCT) — It was an all-too familiar scene: Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., standing in the U.S. Capitol before a packed room of TV cameras launching another effort to pass gun-control legislation in the wake of a mass shooting.

“We have introduced legislation to ban large ammunition magazines, and all we hear is silence,” she lamented Tuesday. 

The congresswoman, whose husband was killed and son wounded by a gunman on a Long Island train in 1993, was joined by three Democratic colleagues — New Jersey Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez and Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette — in calling for tougher gun laws in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, which left 12 dead and 58 wounded.

DeGette, noting that the House has had 23 moments of silence for gun violence since she was first elected in 1996, with another planned Tuesday night for the victims of the Aurora shooting, asked, “How many more moments of silence will we have to have?”

But the muted response from other lawmakers underscored the long odds gun-control advocates face. The Republican-controlled House has supported National Rifle Association efforts to expand gun rights, and many Democrats are skittish about taking up the issue as they court rural votes.

“The White House has made clear they’re not going to use this horrific event to push for new legislation. I agree,”  House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he didn’t see “any movement … in the direction of thinking that stricter gun control laws would likely have prevented this horrible occurrence in Colorado.”

An NRA spokesman said: “We believe that now is the time for families to grieve and for the community to heal. There will be an appropriate time down the road to engage in political and policy discussions.”

No new legislation was proposed Tuesday. McCarthy introduced a bill after last year’s shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in Tucson, targeting ammunition magazines containing more than 10 rounds. But the measure has languished for more than year.

“This has nothing to do with Second Amendment rights,” McCarthy said. Pointing to a photo of a high-capacity ammunition magazine similar to the one used in the Colorado shooting rampage, she said, “This is meant to kill as many people as possible in the shortest period of time.”

The weapons and bullets used by the gunman were legally purchased, including more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition bought over the Internet, according to authorities, who recovered an AR-15 assault-style rifle, a shotgun and two Glock pistols. Suspect James E. Holmes is being held in the massacre.

The high-capacity ammunition magazines would have been outlawed under the 1994 federal assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to lapse in 2004.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who wrote the now-expired assault weapons ban, said in a statement: “Weapons of war do not belong on our streets, plain and simple.” She said that she supports efforts to ban high-capacity magazines and is considering other gun control legislation.

Despite the long odds, the lawmakers said they remain undaunted.

“We cannot let the NRA stop us from common-sense reforms anymore,” Lautenberg said.

Menendez said he hoped to at least stoke a new national debate about gun control.

Asked about a comment by Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey that politicians were grandstanding by bringing up gun control so soon after the Colorado tragedy, McCarthy responded, “I have the right to try to reduce gun violence because I’ve been through it.” She also recounted watching her son learn to walk again.

“I’d be more than happy to be here at my last press conference,” she said.

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