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Minnesota Democrats in Congress open door to gun control — but it won’t come soon or come easy

WASHINGTON — Minnesota gun-rights advocate predicts interest in gun control will fade.

A Palmetto M4 assault rifle on display at the Rocky Mountain Guns and Ammo store in Parker, Colo.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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“The time has come for President Obama, Congress and the American people to come together to act immediately to end the epidemic of gun violence and the proliferation of guns designed to be weapons of mass murder,” she said on Friday. “Inaction and obstruction by the National Rifle Association to common sense gun laws is not tolerable.”

Ellison has sponsored several of the McCarthy bills as well. Appearing on TPT’s “Almanac” this weekend, he said he’d like to see “sane, sensible gun regulation. We need it now.” He called for more background checks before people can buy a weapon, and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

No details from Obama

President Obama opened the door to some form of legislative action on Sunday when he spoke to mourners in Newtown.

“No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” he said. “But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.”

A White House spokesman clarified Monday that Obama wasn’t planning to introduce any legislation immediately, and he wouldn’t detail what an eventual plan might look like. That hasn’t stopped Senate gun control advocates, led by California Sen. Diane Feinstein, from laying out their next steps. She said this weekend she plans to introduce a bill banning assault weapons similar to the one that lapsed eight years ago.

In statements, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she has “long supported” reauthorizing that law and would do so again when the bill comes forward. Sen. Al Franken noted he supports bills banning high-capacity magazines like those used in Friday’s shooting, and said he will “be carefully considering what more we can to do help prevent acts of violence like this in the future.”

Obstacles ahead

“This is the worst I have felt in all the years I’ve worked on this issue,” Joan Peterson, a Minnesotan who sits on the board of the pro-gun control Brady Campaign, said. “I’m not alone. It’s a tragedy that 20 children had to die before we had a conversation. I’m listening to everybody now come around to all the things we’ve been talking about for years and years.”

Peterson said she hopes Congress takes three steps to address gun violence: reinstate the assault weapons ban, prohibit high-capacity magazines and put in place stricter federal background checks on those who want to buy guns.

Lawmakers have long ignored gun-related legislation (none of the Ellison- or McCollum-backed bills have passed this session), and it was a topic only really addressed once during this year’s presidential campaign (one question during the second debate). But even after a calamity like Newtown, it’s unlikely to be an easy path to pass new legislation.

The National Rifle Association is a potent force in Washington, and has endorsed scores of Republicans and Democrats alike who might not be entirely receptive to new gun laws (the NRA endorsed all four Republican House incumbents in Minnesota, as well as Democrats Tim Walz and Collin Peterson). Though a few high-profile senators indicated they’re interested in taking up gun control, several, including Democrats like Majority Leader Harry Reid, would have to break with the NRA to pass new gun laws next year.

Hamline University law professor and gun-rights advocate Joseph Olson predicted the NRA, its members and gun-owning voters across the country will try — and succeed — to force lawmakers away from the issue.

“I think Congress will recess and go home, their constituents who are gun owners will pinhole them where they go and say, the gun owner didn’t shoot anyone here,” he said, referring to shooter Adam Lanza’s mother, who owned the guns used in the attack. “She was murdered.”

There’s also the Supreme Court, which in 2008 dealt gun control advocates a stinging defeat when it overturned a Washington D.C. gun ban. The five-member majority responsible for the decision remains on the court, which soon could review a lower court’s ruling that struck down an Illinois law banning concealed weapons.

Gun control is unlikely to come before the end of the year. The White House wouldn’t give a timetable on Monday, but lawmakers from the president on down are so fixated on year-end fiscal cliff negotiations that gun control is probably an issue more destined for the 113th Congress, if at all.

Olson said public sentiment for more gun control will fade away the further Newtown moves into the past. He noted that public demand for gun control spiked after the Aurora, Col.. shooting in July, but soon dimished back to normal levels.

That’s not good enough for gun control advocates like Peterson, who call the Newtown shooting a “tipping point and a breaking point” for the country.

“[Lawmakers] are focusing on a lot of other things,” she said. “But, honest to God, I don’t see how we can wait. When is the next shooting going to happen? If we don’t get busy now, how many more innocent people need to be shot?”