LEESBURG, Va. - House Democrats unveiled its task force's plan to crack down on gun violence today, calling on Congress to enact an assault weapons ban, outlaw high-capacity assault magazines, and put in place universal background checks for every firearm sale.
Fifty-five days after the Newtown elementary school shooting, the 12-member task force devised its package as an unabashed attempt to capitalize on growing frustration over the recurring trend of high-profile gun crimes throughout the country.
"Every person who holds public office takes that oath to protect and defend," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "It is our first responsibility." The plan, which consists of 15 proposals, largely mirrors the steps suggested by President Obama and Vice President Biden last month.
"We can't relive what just happened in Newtown, we can't relive what happened in Aurora, we can't relive any of the major tragedies, nor can we continue to live in a society where 32 people a day are killed with firearms," Rep. Mike Thompson, the chairman of the task force, added. "We have a responsibility. It's time to act."
"The proposals that the White House is making, the proposals that Congressman Thompson and his task force are making are consistent and very close together in their intent," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said. "We're very pleased to put this before the American people who we believe polls show want common-sense safety precautions made for them, their families and their communities." Democrats emphasized that their ideas are intended to respect the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans, but they also stressed that Congress has the power to limit access to certain firearms, especially from criminals and the mentally deranged.
"The principles that we worked on over the course of the last two months … recognize the importance of protecting and defending the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans, and we know that we can do that while still reducing gun violence in our country," Thompson said. "I'm a hunter and I'm a gun owner, and I believe that we should protect law-abiding citizens' rights to own firearms. I'm not interested in giving up my guns, and I wouldn't ask anyone else to give up their guns."
Thompson joined the House Democratic Leadership to unveil the proposals at the House Democratic Issues Conference in Leesburg, Va. Vice President Biden spoke to the caucus at the retreat Wednesday evening, imploring members to find the political courage to support the measures, while President Obama delivered remarks Thursday afternoon, asking Democrats to lead the legislative march toward comprehensive reform in Congress.
"We've got to be mindful about steps we can take to end the cycle of gun violence in this country, and we should do so recognizing that, again, there are regional differences here and we should respect those," Obama said. "Guns mean something different for somebody who grew up on a farm in a rural community than somebody who grew up in an inner city and they're different realities and we have to respect them. But what we know is the majority of responsible gun owners recognize we cannot have a situation in which 20 more of our children, or a hundred more of our children, or a thousand more of our children are shot and killed in a senseless fashion, and that there are some common-sense steps that we can take and build a consensus around. And we cannot shy away from taking those steps."
While some of the proposals have already gained some bipartisan support, such as passing legislation to improve mental health access or crack down on illegal gun trafficking, many of the proposals are expected to face stiff opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike.
House Speaker John Boehner has maintained that he will wait to see what sort of legislative action the Senate takes before bringing any new gun-related measures up for consideration in the lower chamber. While some of the task force's proposals have already been adapted into legislative form, many of the ideas have not been introduced yet in the 113th Congress.
The task force's proposal to ban high-capacity magazines would place a 10-bullet limit on clips, a move intended to limit the destruction of a single shooter, such as the gunmen that struck in Tucson, Aurora and Newtown.
"Ten bullets in a magazine is more than enough for most things," Thompson said. "The only thing that they do, with very few exceptions, is provide … the wrong people with guns in their hand a greater ability to do harm and create carnage."
Joining Thompson on the task force are Democratic Reps. Ron Barber (Ariz.), John Dingell (Mich.), Elizabeth Esty (Conn.), Chaka Fattah (Pa.), Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y.), Grace Napolitano (Calif.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), David Price (N.C.), Bobby Scott (Va.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), and Bennie Thompson (Miss.).
Here is the full list of proposals and principles from the task force: