PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Saying the Newtown massacre galvanized calls for stronger gun laws, Rhode Island's congressional delegation vowed Friday to push to re-instate a federal assault weapons ban, outlaw high-capacity magazines and beef up background checks for buyers.
U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline told reporters Friday that the slaughter of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School is a tipping point in the gun control debate. The four Democrats have long supported tougher gun control laws.
"It's a shame that it takes a tragedy to focus the attention of the entire nation and create the momentum that we need to see," said Langevin, a quadriplegic as a result of a gun accident at a police station when he was a 16-year-old Boy Scout. "It would be an even bigger tragedy if we're silent ... until the next tragedy."
The lawmakers called for a ban on high-capacity magazines and the military-style semi-automatic firearms like the one used in Newtown. They also want to close loopholes that allow for the purchase of firearms at gun shows without background checks, as well as additional funds for mental health services and youth violence prevention.
Reed predicted a tough fight over mental health funding but said he's optimistic that a bipartisan coalition could emerge to strengthen gun laws. Langevin agreed and said he hopes there's widespread support to reinstate the 1994-2004 ban on so-called assault weapons, which he said "have no more business on our streets than an army tank."
Nevertheless, the proposals are likely to face opposition from lawmakers concerned that further restrictions will infringe on 2nd Amendment rights.
Woonsocket gun store owner Paul Connolly told The Associated Press that he'd like Congress to focus on making it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns. He said states do a good job sharing criminal and mental health records that could prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. Outlawing more kinds of guns won't stop criminals or sick people intent on killing people.
"It's like saying that cars kill people, so let's take all the cars off the road," he said.
The Newtown massacre involved the shooting deaths of 20 children and six educators by a gunman who also killed his mother and him himself. While it has reinvigorated the debate over gun control, Cicilline said it's important to remember the daily acts of gun violence across the nation. Cicilline, a former mayor of Providence, said he expects to be a co-sponsor of legislation to ban assault weapons that could be introduced next week.
State lawmakers around the country also are crafting legislative responses to Newtown that could include bans on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, which allow a shooter to fire more bullets before reloading.
Whitehouse, a gun owner, said he is not proposing to restrict Americans' lawful access to handguns or hunting rifles. But he said Newtown and earlier massacres show there's a need for Washington to limit access to certain weapons.
"From Columbine to Tucson to Aurora, Colo., to Newtown, there is a trail of blood across this country," said Whitehouse. "It must be stopped."