WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman said Sunday that military-style assault weapons should be banned and that a national commission should be established to examine mass shootings in the United States.
The proposals were among the first to come from Congress in the wake of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Gun rights activists remained largely quiet on the issue, all but one declining to appear on the Sunday talk shows. Meanwhile, Democrats vowed action and said it was time to hear from voters — not gun lobbyists — on how to prevent the next shooting.
The time for "saying that we can't talk about the policy implications of tragedies like this is over," said Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who won a Senate seat in the November elections.
President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats haven't pushed for new gun controls since rising to power in the 2008 national elections. Outspoken advocates for stricter laws, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, say that's because of the powerful sway of the National Rifle Association.
But advocates also say the latest shooting is a tipping point in the debate. Feinstein, D-Calif., said she will propose legislation next year that would ban big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets.
"It can be done," she said Sunday of reviving the 10-year ban that expired in 2004.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, said Obama could use executive powers to enforce existing gun laws, as well as throw his weight behind legislation like Feinstein's.
"It's time for the president, I think, to stand up and lead and tell this country what we should do — not go to Congress and say, 'What do you guys want to do?' " Bloomberg said.
Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who is retiring, supports such a ban but said there should also be a national commission to scrutinize gun laws and loopholes, as well as the nation's mental health system and the role that violent video games and movies might play in shootings.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he would support such a panel, adding that it was time for a "national discussion" that included school safety.
"This conversation has been dominated in Washington by — you know and I know — gun lobbies that have an agenda" Durbin said. "We need people, just ordinary Americans, to come together, and speak out, and to sit down and calmly reflect on how far we go."
Gun rights advocates appeared reluctant to make their case against tougher gun laws while Connecticut families and the nation were still in the earliest stages of grieving. David Gregory, the host of Meet the Press, said NBC invited all 31 "pro-gun" senators to appear on Sunday's show, and all 31 declined. All eight Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were unavailable or unwilling to appear on CBS's Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer said.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, was the sole representative of gun rights' activists on the various Sunday talk shows. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Gohmert defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should herself have been armed.
Murphy spoke on ABC's This Week. Lieberman, Durbin and Gohmert spoke on Fox News Sunday. Bloomberg and Feinstein spoke on Meet the Press.