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Capitol Hill Reaction To Gun Mayhem Varies


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Even before the events of the last few days, Congress had a busy agenda. Lawmakers are negotiating over taxes and spending that could affect the economy in the year ahead, not to mention almost every part of the federal government and the take-home pay for millions of Americans.

GREENE: But last week's shootings in Newtown, Connecticut restarted the debate over gun control. Some Democrats are pushing for tighter restrictions on guns and ammunitions.

INSKEEP: Some conservatives now say they agree, but the Republicans who lead the House of Representatives have so far shown little interest.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Members of Congress have been hearing a lot from constituents about the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary. Yesterday, the father of an eight-year-old student who survived that shooting was on Capitol Hill to appeal to lawmakers directly. At a news conference, Andrei Nikitchyuk pleaded for Congress to act now to head off more bullet-riddled nightmares like the one his son Barry went through.

ANDREI NIKITCHYUK: Everyone I talk to thinks that the change should be done. And please, let's stop partisan bickering. Let's get money out of politics and act in the interest of people.

WELNA: Colorado House Democrat Diana DeGette is taking action. She's rounded up more than a hundred cosponsors - every one of them a Democrat - for a bill reinstating a ban on gun magazines holding more than 10 bullets. That ban had been in effect for a decade, but Congress allowed it to expire eight years ago. DeGette says that was a mistake Congress now has a chance to correct.

REPRESENTATIVE DIANA DEGETTE: You know, you're never going to stop somebody from being able to get a gun. But if they can't shoot so many people in a 10-minute period, if they had to stop, maybe somebody could have tackled him and stopped him. And so I think there's a lot more impetus for this bill now.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT: Well, I think to say that we need new gun laws is premature.

WELNA: That's Republican Louie Gohmert, a House member from Texas. Democrats, he says, are - in his words - trying to slap a Band-Aid on an area that's not even a wound.

GOHMERT: As a former judge, it just seems the appropriate thing to do is to gather all of the evidence before we come up with a verdict. I'm sick of this place having verdicts, and then gathering evidence later. That's not the way you do it.

WELNA: Gohmert had just stepped out of the first closed-door meeting of House Republicans since last Friday's massacre. Michigan Republican Candice Miller was there, too. What happened in Newtown, Connecticut, she says, did not go unmentioned at the House GOP's weekly caucus.

REPRESENTATIVE CANDICE MILLER: It's so unimaginable, and I think that was felt in the opening prayer, and in some of the comments that were said, as well. We struggle with it like the entire country does.

WELNA: Was there any talk about a need for tougher gun laws?

MILLER: No. Nobody was talking about that this morning.

WELNA: When asked whether he planned to hold any hearings on the matter, this was the brief response of Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

REPRESENTATIVE LAMAR SMITH: We're not - I am not getting into the other issues. Right now, we just want to think about the tragedy and (unintelligible). OK?

WELNA: And with that, Smith ducked into an elevator.

Many other House Republicans say the problem is not weapons. It's sick behavior. Jason Chaffetz of Utah is one of them.

REPRESENTATIVE JASON CHAFFETZ: We've had an assault weapons ban in the past. It didn't yield the results that I think some people thought it would. But I want to focus, I think, on what is common ground, and that is fighting back the mental health issues.

WELNA: And Georgia Republican Jack Kingston allows it may well be time to talk again about guns.

REPRESENTATIVE JACK KINGSTON: The idea of squeezing the trigger in the face of a six-year-old is abhorrent. No one in here can believe it. It's something you can't get your mind off of and you can get your mind around. So we need to address this. And if there's a solution out there that involves guns, put it on the table.

WELNA: But while there's momentum this week in the Democratic-controlled Senate to address gun mayhem, that's not the case in the House, as Colorado Democrat DeGette notes.

DEGETTE: The Republican leadership has been noticeably absent.

WELNA: Still, DeGette is pushing to get House Speaker John Boehner to bring up her bill for a vote this week. But at a news conference yesterday, Boehner said not a word about the latest massacre, much less any action to address it.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.