Lawmakers Vow Tougher Gun Laws as Obama Weighs Next Steps

President Barack Obama would support legislation restoring a ban on assault weapons and requiring background checks of buyers at gun shows as steps toward preventing more mass shootings, his spokesman said today.

Obama also would consider backing restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines like the one used by the gunman who killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

As part of his vow to pursue solutions to gun violence in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, the president plans to involve a mental health professionals, law enforcement officials and educators in developing a response.

“It’s clear that as a nation we haven’t done enough to address the scourge of gun violence in this country,” Carney said at a briefing. “It’s a complex problem that requires more than one solution.”

The president met yesterday with Vice President Joe Biden, senior aides and Cabinet members including Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss ways to respond to the shooting. Carney said there was no timetable for any recommendations.

New Support

Obama also talked with Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who yesterday became one of the first pro-gun rights lawmakers to say that some restrictions on firearms should be discussed in responding to the Connecticut killings.

Other Democratic lawmakers today pressed for restoring restrictions on certain military-style assault weapons. The law was enacted in 1994 when Democrats controlled the White House and Congress. It expired in 2004, and wasn’t renewed as Republicans held the presidency and congressional majorities.

One particular area of focus for restrictions is the ammunition capacity of weapons. The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Adam Lanza, 20, used a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle with 30-round magazines as his main weapon, Connecticut State Police Lieutenant Paul Vance said at a Dec. 16 news conference.

“There is only one use for high-capacity magazines and that is to kill a lot of people quickly,” Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, told reporters today.

In another sign that the debate over firearms may be shifting, the New York-based investment firm Cerberus Capital Management LP said it would sell gunmaker Freedom Group Inc., which manufactures the Bushmaster AR-15.

Pension Funds

Cerberus made its announcement just hours after California Treasurer Bill Lockyer said he’ll propose that the state’s public pension funds, the two largest in the U.S., divest investments in firearm manufacturers that make guns prohibited under state law.

Congressional proposals for tightening access to firearms may be bolstered by policy options from the Justice Department. Obama has vowed to “use whatever power this office holds” to prevent another mass shooting.

Senior Justice Department officials spent much of 2011 drafting recommendations to reduce gun violence. Those options, which have been presented to the agency’s leadership though not the White House, included enhancements to the national background-check database, harsher sentences for people who serve as “straw” buyers of weapons, and increased funding for states that improve their background check submissions, according to two people briefed on the activities.

‘Spur Change’

The latest attack has the potential to shift the national debate in favor of gun control, said Richard Primus, a law professor at the University of Michigan.

“Policy is often made in reaction to perceived disaster,” said Primus, a constitutional law specialist. “This is certainly the sort of thing that can spur change.”

Congressional Democrats also plan hearings in the wake of the mass shooting, the deadliest in the U.S. since the 2007 rampage at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University that claimed 33 lives.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, earlier said she’ll introduce legislation in the new Congress convening in January that would reinstate the assault-weapons ban. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, said he plans to reintroduce his bill banning high-capacity gun magazines, which have been used in several mass shootings, including at the Newtown elementary school.

Efforts to tighten restrictions on firearms after other recent mass shootings have been stymied by opposition from gun-rights group. While Obama has supported the assault-weapons ban, he hasn’t moved to renew it since taking office in 2009.

Poll Results

An ABC News/Washington Post survey released yesterday found 54 percent of respondents backing new limits on gun rights, with 43 percent opposed. When asked about banning ammunition clips that contain more than 10 bullets, 59 percent supported the idea, while 38 percent opposed it.

In addition, 52 percent backed a ban on semiautomatic handguns, with 44 percent in opposition. The Dec. 14-16 survey of 602 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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