Posted: Dec 17, 2012 7:45 AM by CBS News
Now that three days have passed since 27 people, including 20 children, were killed by one gunman in Newtown, Conn., the discussion over gun control has bubbled to the surface. After President Obama got the discussion started just hours after the massacre when he called for "meaningful action" on guns "regardless of politics," he renewed his vow to take action Sunday night when speaking to residents of of the grief-striken town. "What choice do we have?" he rhetorically asked. "We can't accept events like this as routine."
If action is taken, Congress will have a major role. Members of the legislative body escalated the debate on Sunday on the political talk shows as well as more elected officials threw their voice into the discussion, with proponents of gun control calling for a ban on assault weapons.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a fierce proponent of gun control, vowed to reintroduce legislation that would ban assault weapons on the first day the new Congress convenes in January.
"I can tell you that [the president] is going to have a bill to lead on because...I'm going to introduce [it] in the Senate and the same bill will be introduced in the House - a bill to ban assault weapons," Feinstein said. It would ban the sale and possession of the powerful weapons and limit the size of clips to a maximum of ten bullets. Feinstein was instrumental in the previous assault weapons ban of 1994, which expired in 2004.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., also called for a federal ban on assault weapons. "[N]ot to take anybody's guns away that they have now but to stop the manufacturing of these weapons," he said. "We've got to continue to hear the screams of these children and see their blood until we do something to try and prevent this from happening again."
Lieberman also called for "a national commission on mass violence." He said on "Fox News Sunday" that it shouldn't supplant any legislation but to insure that "legislative gridlock" doesn't overcome any changes that might be necessary.
While gun control advocates sounded the alarm, most prominent leaders of the Republican Party have been silent, allowing gun control advocates to fill the immediate void.
The National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby, is stone silent. The organization has repeatedly withheld comment and has yet to offer its condolences to the victims. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, cancelled the Republican weekly address, deferring to President Obama to lead the nation at this time. And the Sunday political shows, which are usually filled with opinionated politicians from all sides, were absent of gun rights advocates. But it wasn't for the lack of effort.
For instance, CBS News' "Face the Nation" invited numerous pro-gun members of Congress to appear on the program to discuss Newtown and guns. All declined.
"It's not just that Congress is reluctant to pass laws," Bob Schieffer, the host of "Face the Nation" said Sunday. "Members, as we found out this weekend when we tried to get guests to come on and talk about this on 'Face the Nation,' people are just reluctant to even discuss it."
And the executive producer of NBC's "Meet the Press", Betsy Fischer Martin, wrote via Twitter that her team reached out to "ALL 31 pro-gun rights [Senators] in the new Congress to invite them to share their views... NO takers."
One gun advocate, however, did accept Fox News' invitation to speak Sunday - Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas - who said there should be a debate on the issue. "[T]he conversation we've go to have has got to have everybody open-minded," Gohmert said.
His solution: arm more people. "I wish to God she had had an M4 [carbine rifle] in her office locked up and so when she heard gunshots... she takes his head off before he can hurt those kids," Gohmert said on "Fox News Sunday" of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, who was killed when she tried to get the gunman to stop shooting during Friday's massacre.
While Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the Newtown rampage "a tipping point" where "we might actually get something done" because mass shootings have become "common" and it involves children, it is too early to tell what the parameters of a debate might be.
Since Newtown's tragedy, not one gun rights advocate has spoken about a shift in position and not one gun control proponent has vocalized a new perspective, either. And since the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, there has been little appetite in Washington to touch the issue of guns. For instance, when the mass killings in Aurora, Colo., occurred in July, neither Mr. Obama nor Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney touched the issue of gun control.
The issue is not a simple Republican vs. Democrat issue either. For instance, there are many pro-gun Democrats, especially those from western states, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who sets the agenda in the Senate and might be reluctant to push for new gun control legislation (Reid, like most lawmakers, didn't reference the gun issue in his initial reaction to the shooting).
Instead of calling for immediate action, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called for "a national conversation" on gun laws Sunday and said there is "plenty of blame on both sides" for misrepresenting and invoking fear into the debate."We need to sit down and have a quiet, calm reflection on the Second Amendment ... and are there guns that really shouldn't be sold all across America," Durbin said on "Fox News Sunday."
"We're going to be on the floor of the Senate very soon talking about where we go from here," Senator-elect Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said.
© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.