As the country mourns victims of last week's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the debate over gun control takes on new urgency in Washington, House Democrats today called on Congress immediately to enact tougher gun legislation, particularly a ban on so-called "assault weapons" and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
"No words are adequate to console the families of these children and others who were taken from us in an act of senseless, unspeakable violence," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Here in Congress, what we need now are not more words. What we need is action."
Pelosi called on Congress to restore an expired ban on assault weapons, outlaw high-capacity clips, strengthen the federal background check system and address the issue of mental health in order "to keep weapons out of the hands of those in greatest danger of doing harm to themselves and to others."
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York, arguably the Democrats' fiercest advocate for tougher gun laws, called on Republicans "to join us in supporting our efforts to reduce gun violence in America."
"All too often, we see these mass killings and we mourn for those that have died in the past. And yet, all our lives go on. But this time, it is different, and we all know it," said McCarthy, whose husband was murdered and son wounded in a 1993 shooting aboard a commuter train in Long Island.
"It shouldn't be a Democrat or a Republican issue," she said. "It's all of us as Americans who are mourning the death in Newtown, and we don't want to see any more of these shootings again."
No Republican lawmakers attended the news conference.
Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., who was wounded in a Tucson, Ariz., shooting as a staffer working alongside former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords two years ago, noted a perceived lack of willpower among congressional Republicans for tougher legislation.
"I'm a newcomer. I've only been here about five months," Barber said. "I know what's going on in terms of the political gamesmanship, but this is an issue on which political games have to stop. We should have members of the Republican caucus standing with us today and I hope, in time, we will. This has to be a bipartisan issue in the end."
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., blasted Texas Gov. Rick Perry for suggesting that teachers should have "access to weapons in their school."
"The notion that more Americans, quote/unquote, in the words of Gov. Perry, 'packing heat will make us safer' is not founded in reality, in facts or in history," Himes said. "It is founded in the fantasy of testosterone-laden individuals who have blood on their hands for articulating that idea."
Pelosi announced that Rep. Mike Thompson, a seven-term Democrat from California, will head a newly created task force focused on reducing and preventing gun violence.
Thompson, a Vietnam veteran, said it's time for Congress to enact a "comprehensive package that addresses the gun violence [and] puts in place appropriate restrictions on inappropriate types of firearms and accessories."
One bill Democrats hope to pass would limit ammunition clips to 10 rounds, prohibiting high-capacity magazines like the ones used in mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown.
"It's time. We need to do everything we possibly can to minimize gun violence," Thompson said. "I've been a hunter all my life and there's no reason to have a magazine that holds 30 shells."
McCarthy admitted that strengthening the country's gun laws is "like a puzzle," and "no single piece of legislation is going to solve everything."
"You've got to put everything together to have it work," she said. "There are some who say that any gun restriction is an imposition on their liberty, but they must understand that the level of gun violence in America today is an imposition on the liberty of all Americans."