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Democrats Hope Gun Task Force Can Attract Republicans

photo of Fawn Johnson
December 19, 2012

More than two dozen House Democrats stood on a podium platform inside the Capitol Wednesday begging their colleagues and their constituents not to forget the tragedies in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz., when Congress convenes next year.

They also were keenly aware that there were no Republicans standing with them. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for a new assault weapons ban, the broadest of legislative options outlined since Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

But there are other, less controversial measures that Democrats support--tightening up background checks for gun purchases, limiting magazine clips to 10 rounds, and the White House's efforts to bolster mental health and safety services.

But White House efforts aside, they need Republicans. And that means they will need to scale back from an all-out assault weapons ban that many in the GOP do not support. Pelosi noted that many House Democrats lost their elections after voting for the ban in 1994.

"This is an issue in which political games have to stop. We need Republicans standing here and I hope we will in time." said Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who holds the seat vacated by former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot last year in a Tucson rampage that killed several others.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., a hunter and gun owner, will lead a House task force to examine ways that gun laws can be fixed. "I've been a hunter all my life, and there's no reason to have a magazine that holds 30 rounds," he said.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., whose husband was killed in a 1993 mass shooting on a Long Island commuter train, has been advocating for stiffer gun control laws for 18 years. Her biggest concern is that the momentum for action will fade away as the Newtown story disappears from the front pages.

“We go home and we face these constituents. We go to their funerals. And then a couple of months later, nobody is talking to them,” she said.

It’s not clear what the House task force will be able to accomplish, but the conversation will likely involve a fair amount of grassroots organizing, creating a full circle of lobbying with members asking constituents to ask members for action.

“Every single American who cares about this issue needs to pick up the phone and call your Congress member and as, ‘Where do you stand?’” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., whose district includes both Columbine High School and is near Aurora, where a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater this summer.

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