In the wake of tragedy: Gun control debated after Sandy Hook school shooting

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012 10:15 a.m. MST

In this Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 file photo, parents leave a staging area after being reunited with their children following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza fatally shot 27 people, including 20 children.

Associated Press

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Gun control and mental illness have been at the center of the debate following the Connecticut school shooting. Read more about the ongoing discussions regarding mental illness.

The murder of 20 elementary school students in Connecticut at the hands of gunman Adam Lanza has sparked a national cry for a new look at gun control laws, with suggestions ranging from reinstating the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, to addressing magazine capacity.

"This one feels different," Jon Vernick of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research told CNN. "Maybe because of the timing, maybe because of the victims, 20 young children. Maybe it's because we have a president who has been re-elected who is not going to be running again. That doesn't mean those political obstacles aren't still there, but it does feel different."

According to Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, an assault weapon may have flash suppressors, bayonet mounts, folding stocks, and use high-capacity magazines. Semi-automatic weapons require someone to pull the trigger for each shot, which differs from both automatic weapons like machine guns and single shot weapons, which require the user to reload, cock or pump the new load each time a shot is taken. A magazine completely surrounds the bullets and uses a spring to inject the bullet into the gun. Most semi-automatic weapons use magazines.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has already announced that she planned to introduce a bill that would place a ban on assault weapons, and that she hoped "the nation will really help."

"We're crafting this one. It's being done with care. It'll be ready on the first day," Feinstein told CNN. "It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession. Not retroactively, but prospectively. It will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets."

"We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens," Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said from the Senate floor Monday. "In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow."

On Monday, President Barack Obama also began a push toward collecting proposals for curbing gun violence, The Washington Post reported. Vice President Joe Biden will lead the effort, and will be joined by White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Biden's chief counsel Cynthia C. Hogan and senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.

At Sunday's memorial service, Obama said he intends to talk with law enforcement officials, mental health experts, educators and others to come up with proposals to reduce gun violence, and the White House later suggested the proposals will probably include ideas to address mental illness and violence depicted in popular culture.

"Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?" Obama asked Sunday. "If we're honest with ourselves, the answer's no. We're not doing enough, and we will have to change."

During Tuesday's "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough said that any defense of the type of weapons used in the shooting are "nonsense," and called on Republicans to support gun control in order to avoid being seen as the party of Glocks, Bushmasters, combat-style military weapons and rapid-fire magazine clips.

Whatever side of the gun debate individuals fall on, any gun control suggestions must be approached pragmatically in order to achieve meaningful action, a trio of Atlantic writers recently suggested in three different articles.

A debate on guns can only begin and be productive in a country as pro-gun as the U.S. if people on both sides of the issue understand the disagreements at the center of the debate, Conor Friedersdorf cautioned on Monday.

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