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US Lawmakers Mull Gun Control After Connecticut School Shootings

A student is consoled after he placed flowers on a memorial at the entrance to Newtown High School in Newtown, Connecticut December 18, 2012.
A student is consoled after he placed flowers on a memorial at the entrance to Newtown High School in Newtown, Connecticut December 18, 2012.
Michael Bowman
Any U.S. gun-control legislation would have to pass both houses of a politically-divided Congress.  While lawmakers universally mourn last week's carnage in Newtown, Connecticut, they are far from united on how to prevent mass-shootings in the future.

Recent days have seen impassioned Senate floor speeches on gun violence.  Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal recounted time spent with the parents of slain schoolchildren in Newtown.

“I will live forever with the sights and sounds, the cries and sobbing, the cries of grief and anguish.  The look on those faces,” he said.

Democratic lawmakers who have long-advocated stricter gun control laws are speaking out with renewed urgency.  Senator Barbara Boxer says America is awash in firearms.

“Three hundred million firearms in the United States today, nearly one gun per person.  More than 31,000 people die each year from gun violence in our nation,” she said.

Boxer and other gun-control backers want to ban access to high-powered firearms and high-capacity ammunition clips, and tighten requirements for background checks before a gun can be purchased.

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, is non-committal on steps he might endorse in the wake of the Newtown slayings.

“As we continue to learn the facts, Congress will examine whether there is an appropriate and constitutional response that would better protect our citizens,” he said.

The U.S. Constitution sets forth “the right to bear arms.”  America’s judiciary has long-wrestled with the constitutionality of government restrictions on that right.

Some Republicans, like Senator Susan Collins, say they are open to curbs on gun ownership. “In 2004, I voted for an extension of the assault weapons ban,” she said.

Others question whether any law or regulation can actually stop those with violent intent. 

“Every bad event in the world cannot be fixed by government action.  This is a hard problem to solve,” said Senator Lindsey Graham.

Senator Blumenthal rejects that argument. “Sadly, there have always been, and there always will be, mentally-deranged or hateful people who want to lash out violently at the world," he said. "But even if we cannot prevent all of these tragedies, we must not surrender and say we will do nothing to prevent any of them.”

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has pledged to introduce legislation renewing an expired ban on assault weapons in the United States.  Asked about the chances of the measure passing both the Democratically-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House, Feinstein said, “This is an uphill climb every step of the way.”

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