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Democrats pursue ban on weapons

Democratic legislators have said military-style assault weapons should be banned and that a national commission should be established to examine mass shootings in the United States.

The proposals were among the first to come from Congress in the wake of Friday's massacre at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Gun rights activists remained largely quiet on the issue, all but one declining to appear on Sunday talk shows. Meanwhile, Democrats vowed action and said it was time to hear from voters - not gun lobbyists - on how to prevent the next shooting.

The time for "saying that we can't talk about the policy implications of tragedies like this is over", said Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who won a Senate seat in the November elections.

President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats have not pushed for new gun control measures since taking power in the 2008 elections. Outspoken advocates for stricter laws, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, say that is because of the powerful sway of the National Rifle Association, the gun owners' lobbying group.

But advocates say the latest shooting is a tipping point that could change the dynamic of the debate dramatically. Ms Feinstein said she will propose legislation next year that would ban big ammo clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets.

"It can be done," she said of reviving a 10-year ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said Mr Obama could use executive powers to enforce existing gun laws, as well as throw his weight behind legislation like Ms Feinstein's.

"It's time for the president, I think, to stand up and lead and tell this country what we should do - not go to Congress and say, 'What do you guys want to do?'," Mr Bloomberg said.

Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent former Democrat from Connecticut who is retiring, supports such a ban on assault weapons but said there should also be a national commission to scrutinise gun laws and loopholes, as well as the US mental health system and the role that violent video games and movies might play in shootings.

Senator Dick Durbin said he would support such a panel, adding that it was time for a "national discussion" that included school safety.

"This conversation has been dominated in Washington by - you know and I know - gun lobbies that have an agenda," he said. "We need people, just ordinary Americans, to come together and speak out, and to sit down and calmly reflect on how far we go."

Congress has frequently turned to independent bipartisan commissions to try to solve America's worst problems, including the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Iraq war and the failing economy. But ultimately, politicians are often reluctant to act on the recommendations of outsiders, especially if they think it will cost them support in their home states.

Still, Mr Lieberman defended the idea of a national commission as the only way to ensure that the "heartbreak and anger" of the Connecticut shooting does not dissipate over time and that other factors beyond gun control are considered.

"There are a lot of serious questions here about what is the impact of violence in the entertainment culture on everybody," He said. "There is a vulnerable population out there and I'm afraid this young man was obviously one of them. How do we identify shooters before they shoot and make sure they get the mental health help that they need, and then what about gun control?"

Gun rights advocates appeared reluctant to make their case against tougher gun laws while Connecticut families and the nation were still in the earliest stages of grieving. David Gregory, the host of Meet The Press, said NBC invited all 31 "pro-gun" senators to appear on the show, and all 31 declined. All eight Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were unavailable or unwilling to appear on CBS's Face The Nation, host Bob Schieffer said.

Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, was the sole representative of gun rights' activists on the various Sunday political talk shows. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, he defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should herself have been armed.

"I wish to God she had had an M4 in her office, locked up, so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn't have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands. But she takes him (the shooter) out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Mr Gohmert said.

He also argued that violence is lower in cities with lax gun laws, and higher in cities with stricter laws.

Gun control advocates say that is not true. A study by the California-based Law Centre to Prevent Gun Violence said seven of the 10 states with the strongest gun laws - including Connecticut, Massachusetts and California - are also among the 10 states with the lowest gun death rates.

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