Rep. Mike Thompson has been selected to chair a task force on reducing gun violence, as Congress and the White House rush to respond to the public outcry provoked by last week’s mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.
“Something must be done,” Thompson, D-St. Helena, said Wednesday.
“I am a gun owner, hunter, former co-chair of the Congressional Sportsman Caucus, supporter of the Second Amendment and a combat veteran who carried an assault rifle in Vietnam,” Thompson said.
“I understand guns, their purpose and how they are used. Military-type assault weapons and assault magazines have no place on our streets or in our communities.”
The gunman in Friday’s shooting used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 20 young children and six adults at the school, shooting many several times and at close range, after killing his mother at home. He then killed
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced the creation of the task force. House Democrats are pushing for a vote on a bill to ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition as soon as this week.
“We must be able to tell our children that we are doing everything in our power to prevent this from
happening again,” Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in a news release.
Thompson said in the news release that the task force also would focus on “more detailed background checks and making sure appropriate mental health services are available” as part of what he called “a comprehensive approach to reduce gun violence and strengthen our nation’s gun laws while protecting law-abiding citizens’ right to own legitimate firearms.”
Democrats in California’s congressional delegation have moved swiftly to take a leading role in the push for increased gun restrictions.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Monday announced she will introduce a bill to reinstate the expired 1994 assault weapons ban. The ban would apply to 100 specifically named firearms.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday demanded “concrete proposals” on curbing gun violence no later than January.
“This time, the words need to lead to action,” he said.
Obama pressed Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban, limiting high-capacity clips and stricter background checks for people who seek to purchase weapons.
Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime gun control advocate with decades of experience in the Senate, will lead a team that will include members of Obama’s administration and outside groups.
The policy process Obama was announcing was expected to include input from the departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. The heads of those agencies met with Obama at the White House on Monday. The Department of Homeland Security also is expected to play a key role.
The most powerful supporter of gun owners and the gun industry, the National Rifle Association, broke its silence Tuesday, four days after the shooting. In a statement, it pledged “to help to make sure this never happens again” and has scheduled a news conference for Friday.
Obama challenged the NRA to join the broader effort to reduce gun violence, saying, “Hopefully they’ll do some self-reflection.”
The NRA contributed more than $1 million to campaigns in 2011-12. It spent another $2.2 million on lobbying, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Thompson, an avid duck hunter, has received no backing from the NRA during his congressional campaigns.
Nor has Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, who in November won the right to represent the redrawn District 3, including Davis.
In a statement, Garamendi said that although he has been a hunter and gun owner since growing up on his family’s ranch, his opposition to assault weapons dates to his days in the state Senate.
He was representing Stockton in 1989 — the same year a man who had purchased an AK-47 at an Oregon gun store killed five children, wounded 28 others and a teacher, then killed himself in the schoolyard of Stockton’s Cleveland Elementary School.
“My support for bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and in favor of background checks and improved mental health services continues to this day,” Garamendi said.
Many pro-gun lawmakers also have called for a greater focus on mental health issues and the impact of violent entertainment like video games. Obama also prefers a holistic approach, with aides saying stricter gun laws alone are not the answer.
Obama said Wednesday that the United States needs to make access to mental health care as easy as access to a gun.
Still, much of the immediate focus is on gun control, an issue that has been dormant in Washington for years despite several mass shootings.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.