Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 | 1:49 p.m.
Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley today became the first Nevada lawmaker on Capitol Hill to call for a congressional conversation on gun control.
“Congress should answer the challenge issued by President Obama and work together to pass meaningful legislation that balances the right to legally own a firearm with the need to safeguard America’s schools and communities,” Berkley said in a statement released by her office.
On Sunday night, Obama called on Washington to act in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy in which 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook School were killed by a gunman who also shot his mother before killing himself.
Obama pledged to use “whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”
But neither the president nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid specifically mentioned gun control or offered specifics. Reid today refused to specify even what gun control measures he thought might be appropriate to address.
Republicans have been even more vague about what they feel Congress ought to do in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, the fourth mass shooting in the last two years and the second-deadliest shooting perpetrated by a single gunman in the U.S.
“We should look to our Constitution for the principles that will help guide us as we search for answers in these increasingly difficult and complicated times,” Sen. Dean Heller said in a statement late Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who demurred on Monday saying, “We can do nothing to lessen their [the Newtown families’] anguish but we can let them know that we mourn with them,” said Tuesday that it will be up to Reid to decide whether to move on gun control.
Until Friday’s tragedy, gun control had largely fallen out of Congress’ consciousness. It has been eight years since the last piece of active gun control legislation — an assault weapons ban — expired.
If anything, in the time since, federal and Supreme Court decisions have ushered in a more expansive reading of gun laws.
One important inhibiting factor has been the watchful eye of the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby that maintains an unflinchingly pro-gun reading of the Second Amendment, issues annual ratings of lawmakers and contributes handsomely to political campaigns.
Heller has an “A” rating from the NRA, while Reid has a “B.” In the 2010 elections, the NRA funded Reid’s opponent, Sharron Angle.
Berkley received an “F” from the NRA at her last rating. Berkley, who lost a bid for the Senate, won’t be around Congress next year to participate or advance the gun control discussion she is calling for.
But Democrats far more conservative than Berkley have already started to clamor for a similar discussion.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — who has an “A” rating from the NRA and is an avid hunter — told MSNBC on Monday that he thought it was time to discuss laws surrounding guns, especially high-capacity firearms.
On Tuesday, incoming Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana told the Washington Post they would also be open to discussion on gun control.