Gun-control advocates are pressing for stricter gun laws in the wake of Friday’s deadly school shooting in Connecticut, but the fate of new restrictions will hinge on Democrats who have long been skittish on the issue.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) announced Sunday she will introduce a new federal assault weapons ban. Additionally, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) said he will reintroduce a bill prohibiting the sale of guns that can accept more than 10 rounds of ammo.
Bills banning high-capacity magazines and closing the so-called “gun show loophole” are considered the most politically feasible legislation, but passing those bills will require the votes of several Democratic Senators from red states who are up for reelection in 2014: Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), Mary Landrieu (D., La.), Mark Pryor (D., Ark.), Jay Rockefeller (D., W.V.), Tim Johnson (D., S.D.), and Kay Hagan (D., N.C.).
Democratic Senators in “purple” states with Second Amendment-friendly havens, such as Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and Mark Udall in Colorado, would also have to weigh their votes carefully.
Nearly all of those politicians have put out statements following the shooting. Some have been more reticent to push for gun control than others.
“This tragedy will certainly force us as a country to have a discussion about our gun laws as well as our mental health system,” Johnson said in a statement. “Like always, I will carefully consider any proposed legislation and listen to the voices of South Dakotans.”
Shaheen said in a statement that it is “time for elected leaders to come together and determine what we can do to help end the culture of violence that is leading to these tragedies.”
“We need a comprehensive approach that includes improving access to mental health services, better enforcement of our current laws, and we need to get deadly assault weapons off our streets,” she continued.
Rockefeller, who voted for the original 1994 assault weapons ban and is reportedly considering retiring, said it is “unacceptable that it hasn't been reauthorized.”
“West Virginia has a proud hunting tradition and respect for the Second Amendment,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “But most hunters I talk with know that prohibiting the use of military-grade weapons or clips that can fire dozens of rounds in a matter of seconds will not impact those traditions, nor do they have a place on our streets. We need to pass a bill that will again prohibit such weapons.”
Sen. Landrieu’s office said it had no statement at the time. Sens. Baucus and Pryor did not immediately return a request for comment.
Three Democratic senators all previously endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) have come out in support of stricter gun laws following Friday’s shooting.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), whose campaign website still touts his NRA endorsement and opposition to the “so-called assault weapons ban,” called for a “meaningful conversation on gun laws” Monday.
“In the coming days and weeks, we’ll engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws in a culture that allows this violence to continue to grow,” Reid said on the Senate floor Monday. “We have no greater responsibility than keeping our most vulnerable and most precious resource—our children—safe.”
“Every idea should be on the table as we discuss how best to do just that,” Reid added.
Reid voted against renewing the assault weapons ban in 2004.
Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.), who both have "A" ratings and previous endorsements from the NRA, also spoke out in favor of stricter gun laws.
"Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered. It's never happened in America that I can recall, seeing this carnage," Manchin said. "Anybody that's a proud gun owner, a proud member of the NRA, they're also proud parents, they're proud grandparents. They understand this has changed where we go from here.”
Warner also came out strongly in favor of new laws.
"I believe every American has Second Amendment rights, the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I've had a NRA (National Rifle Association) rating of an ‘A’ but, you know, enough is enough," Warner told CBS News.
"It is time for this kind of senseless violence to end,” he continued. “There won't be one perfect law to stop a crazy person from doing evil things. But when we have close to 30,000 killings a year from all types of gun violence, even if we save a few lives, we make progress."
Though Warner did not specify the source for his figure, it likely includes homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths by gun. There were 8,583 homicides by firearms in 2011, the last year for which data is available, according to FBI statistics.
The NRA, other Second Amendment groups, and the gun industry have all been silent following the tragedy. The NRA deleted its Facebook page and has been silent on Twitter.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 passed the House by a slim vote of 216-214 when Democrats enjoyed a large majority. It expired in 2004 under a Republican-led Congress.
Gun control efforts have long gone untouched, even by Democrats, in all but the most liberal districts.
Then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) never brought the assault weapons ban up for a vote in 2009 and 2010.