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On gun control, a new beginning?

By Jerry Zremski

WASHINGTON -- The shock and revulsion that shook the nation after Friday's elementary school shootings in Connecticut shook the political world, too, prompting some Democrats to speak more boldly than they have in some time about gun control.

President Obama only hinted at the issue in his tear-filled statement on the deaths of 20 school children, six adults and a deranged 20-year-old shooter, saying: "We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."

But some other Democrats -- including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a possible presidential contender in 2016 -- took stronger stands.

"We as a society must unify and once and for all crack down on the guns that have cost the lives of far too many innocent Americans," Cuomo said in a statement. "Let this terrible tragedy finally be the wake-up call for aggressive action and I pledge my full support in that effort."

Still, gun control remains a politically difficult issue, with most Republicans firmly resisting any reinstatement of the long-expired assault weapons ban or any other measures to limit access to weapons.

"I think we have to be careful about new, suggesting new gun laws," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the incoming chair of the House Republican Caucus, told The Washington Post. "We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions and make sure that we’re enforcing the laws that are currently on the books."

Liberal Democrats, though, sounded as if they were ready to give gun control another try after years of leaving the issue on the back burner.

“We hear an awful lot about protecting the right to own a gun," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport. "Our nation has an equally somber responsibility to ensure that our children can go to school every morning and come home safely every night. I will always do everything that I can to ensure our children’s safety, and if that means that we place commonsense controls on guns, then that is the price I will freely pay.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E.  Schumer -- a New York Democrat who played a key role in the passage of both the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban -- said: "Perhaps an awful tragedy like this will bring us together so we can do what it takes to prevent this horror from being repeated again.” 

Some concrete challenges stand in the way of gun control, however. For one thing, Republicans control the House. And for another, Democrats such as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, take money from the National Rifle Association.

Higgins, who took $1,000 in campaign money from the NRA Political Victory Fund in March, released a statement not mentioning gun control but saying: "As a father and as a husband of a public school teacher, I have to say that the word that comes most to mind at a time like this is ‘unspeakable.’ This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportion, an act beyond comprehension."

Hochul, who took $6,950 from the NRA Political Victory Fund during her recent losing campaign, did not release a statement in wake of the shooting. Neither did Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, who took $2,000 from the NRA.

NRA supporters tended to keep rather quiet on Friday, but former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, proved to be an exception.

"People want to pass new laws ... but this is a heart issue, laws don't change this kind of thing," Huckabee told Fox News.

Huckabee also tied school violence to efforts to remove God from the classroom.

"We ask why there's violence in our schools, but we've systematically removed God from our schools," Huckabee said. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"

On the other side of the political spectrum, though, Obama is likely to face new pressures from liberals and other gun control advocates to take a stronger stance than he has in the past on the issue.

In fact, that sort of pressure came immediately from one of the nation's most vociferous backers of stronger gun control legislation, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough," Bloomberg said. "We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership -– not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today." 

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

tprecious@buffnews.com


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | jterreri@buffnews.com


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

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