Democrats' Sounds of Silence on Gun Control
Presidential Candidates Have Been Reticent on the Issue After the Virginia Tech Massacre
By JAKE TAPPER
In the past, after shooting massacres, Democrats in Congress often looked immediately to pass gun control measures.
After a killer with an AK-47 took the lives of five kids in a Stockton, Calif., schoolyard in 1989, Democrats pushed for a ban on assault weapons.
After the Columbine tragedy revealed that gun show sales were exempt from many background check laws, Democrats pushed to close the so-called gun show loophole.
But this week, when directly asked about Congress's mood to pass gun control after the worst school shooting in American history, liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acted as if she'd never even heard the term.
"The mood in Congress is one of mourning, sadness and the inadequacy of our words or our action to console the families and the children who were affected there," she said.
"I hope there's not a rush to do anything," added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We need to take a deep breath."
Liberal gun control advocates see this as emblematic of a deafening silence on the issue.
Candidates Being Very Careful
Old-school liberals like New York Rep. Charlie Rangel do not seem to understand why his Democratic colleagues are being so quiet on the subject.
"It's some type of cult," Rangel said on C-SPAN. "'Don't touch. Don't take the fun from my dead, cold hands.' ??? And I don't understand it."
But the fact is, Democrats are back in power thanks, in part, to newly elected freshmen with more conservative views on the right to bear arms.
One of those Democrats is Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., whose narrow victory delivered the Senate into Democratic hands, and who just last month defended an aide who brought a loaded gun into the Capitol.
"I believe that wherever you see laws that allow people to carry weapons, generally the violence goes down," Webb said at the time.
While gun control in general is popular, banning handguns entirely is not. Better enforcement is preferred to new legislation, and three-quarters of Americans believe the Constitution guarantees individuals the right to own guns, according to ABC News polling director Gary Langer.
The Democratic presidential candidates have all supported gun control in the past, but have been quiet this week about it.
The campaign of former Sen. John Edwards issued a statement that seemed carefully calibrated to not offend gun owners.
"In much of America, gun ownership is part of a way of life," an Edwards spokeswoman said. "John Edwards believes that the Second Amendment protects gun ownership and that we must keep guns out of criminals' hands."
On comedian Steve Harvey's radio show, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., took a quick stab at how to prevent future Seung-hui Chos, but he focused more on the health care community.
"If we know that he got mental health services, then there should be some way of preventing somebody like that from buying any kind of weapon," Obama said.
Lone Voice Is Republican
One of the lone voices supporting gun control is in fact a Republican. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has funded new TV ads airing this weekend that slam the Democratic Congress for not being more pro-gun control and urge them to act.
Bloomberg's fellow Republicans in the presidential arena completely disagree with him.
"This brutal attack was not caused by, nor should it lead to restrictions on the Second Amendment," said Arizona Sen. John McCain.
And Bloomberg's predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, who has been a strong supporter of gun control in the past, said, "This tragedy does not alter the Second Amendment. People have the right to keep and bear arms, and the Constitution says this right will not be infringed."