North Carolina lawmakers differ on need for assault weapons ban

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 21, 2012 

— Should the federal government ban the sale of military-style assault weapons?

When Congress takes up that question next year in response to the Connecticut massacre, some lawmakers from the Triangle will take opposite views. Others aren’t saying what stand they’ll take on gun control in light of the tragedy.

A gunman’s use of the civilian version of the military’s M-16 to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School is reopening the question of whether there should be more limits on certain kinds of gun ownership. Congress allowed a ban on assault weapons to expire in 2004. Now President Barack Obama has called for a new ban and swift action on other ways to reduce gun violence.

Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from Greensboro, said he welcomed a debate.

“It’s my belief that the tragedy in Connecticut is more of a mental health problem than it is a gun problem, specifically regarding the manner in which the mentally challenged have access to firearms,” Coble said.

He added that the issue becomes very emotional.

“It would be easy to see what happened in Connecticut and say, ‘Let’s get rid of all the guns.’ I think it needs to be very deliberative and very thorough as we examine it,” he said.

The automatic weapons ban should be part of the debate, he added.

“I don’t think anything should be off the table,” Coble said. “But that’s not to say I’d embrace or reject everything on the table. At least have it up there for discussion.”

‘Gun control is not the answer’

Rep.-elect George Holding, a Republican from Raleigh, said gun control was not the right response to the tragedy.

“As a prosecutor I saw some terrible crimes and it’s not unusual to ask yourself, ‘Why did this happen?’ And often, there is no answer,” Holding said. “It would be reassuring to believe a government program could cure violence but governments have been trying – and failing – for a long time.

“When tragedies like this happen, it’s natural to want to find a cure – quick. This may be the least popular time to say gun control is not the answer – but it’s not,” he added. “The important question to answer, if we can, is: Why did this young man commit these murders? Let’s try to find that answer before deciding what to do.”

Two Democrats, Rep. David Price of Chapel Hill and Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, said they support bans on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips.

“The rise in mass shootings has rightly sparked new dialogue surrounding our nation’s gun laws,” Butterfield said. “I support the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms. However, in these modern times, I believe Congress should enact measures that would limit the proliferation of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.”

He added that gun control was only part of the solution. The country also needs to provide better treatment for mentally ill people and “keep guns out of the hands of those who may use them to inflict harm,” he said.

‘Focus on the root cause’

Price also stressed the importance of mental health care as part of efforts to prevent the kind of tragedy that occurred in Newtown.

“Rep. Price believes that a common-sense approach to gun reform includes reinstating the assault weapons ban to keep military-style weapons off our streets, closing the ‘gun show loophole’ so we can do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of convicted criminals, and banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, such as those used by the gunman who killed six people and severely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson,” said his spokesman, Andrew High.

Price co-sponsored legislation to close the loophole by setting restrictions on gun-show operators. Among other things, they would have to register with the attorney general at least a month before a gun show and abide by certain record-keeping requirements.

Price also has co-sponsored bills introduced in the past two years that would strengthen background checks; ban – with some exceptions – large ammunition feeding devices that generally supply more than 10 rounds of ammunition; and repeal a provision that authorized the possession of firearms in national parks.

The House of Representatives has not moved any of those bills to a vote.

The region’s other Democrat, Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton, declined to give his views on a ban on automatic weapons, but called for a national effort to prevent another tragedy.

“Our nation needs to have a national dialogue to discuss the culture of violence that has become so prevalent on our society and whether we are doing all we can to protect our citizens while also protecting our Second Amendment rights,” he said.

“Mental health access and availability are key components of this discussion and how we can make sure those that commit these heinous crimes get the treatment they need,” he added. “However, now is the time for reflection, remembrance, and recognition of the lives that were lost and the Newtown community that is grieving. Let us join together in prayer for that this holiday season.”

Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican from Dunn, also called for attention to mental health care.

“For the sake of our children, our nation, and our security, we must focus on the root cause of such disasters and not the means by which they enact their despicable deeds,” she said.

“We are still trying to grapple with the unimaginable horrors that continue to take place at the hands of people who have been isolated from society and live in a world of their own terrible delusions,” she added. “This must continue to remain our mission – to protect our citizens and seek and rectify the root causes of these evil acts, rather than focusing on means by which they are accomplished.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican, declined repeated requests for comment this week.

‘A common sense debate’

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, issued a statement on Monday, and her staff on Wednesday said she had no further comment about her position on gun control.

Like statements from the other members of Congress, Hagan has expressed anguish over the senseless killings of the children and the adults who taught and cared for them.

“As we try to comprehend this overwhelming tragedy, it’s important to make sure we have laws in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again. We need a common-sense debate on a comprehensive approach that looks at access to guns, including laws that may have already been on the books, access to mental health care, and violent video games,” Hagan said.

“In the coming months I will review any proposals with an open mind, ensuring that they will improve the safety of our communities without restricting the rights of responsible gun owners as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.”

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