WASHINGTON — Nebraska's congressional delegation is in no rush to embrace President Barack Obama's call for new gun control legislation in the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut.
Various members of the delegation cited the need to let the victims' families mourn, pointed to the role of factors other than guns in such tragedies and questioned the potential effectiveness of new legislation.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said he didn't want to dive into a debate over guns while families in Connecticut are still grieving and suggested that advocates on both sides of the debate are trying to politicize the tragedy.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said he had seen the wrenching images of grieving families on television, but questioned whether some kind of gun ban would prevent such violence.
“What happened in this little community was like staring evil in the face,” Johanns said. “And it is bone-chilling. And I don't know that anybody can make a promise that if you ban video games or you get violence out of movies or you take this specific type of weapon off the street, that that evil will cease to be there.”
Rep. Adrian Smith described himself as “skeptical” of gun control measures.
“The problem is not guns,” Smith said. “There are mental health issues. This is such an extreme situation. We want to take our time to discuss how we should move forward to do what we can to prevent it, but we want to be effective about this and deliberative as well.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., decried the “hyper-politicization” of the tragedy.
“Policy discussions on weapons and safety precautions are sure to come, but this is a time for respect and reflection,” Fortenberry said. “We might start with an honest assessment of the gratuitous violence in popular culture and its pervasive effects throughout society.”
Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said he would withhold judgement on any presidential proposals until there are more details.
“But this is a bigger societal problem than just focusing on the gun part of it, so when he wants to talk about mental health issues, how we handle those, the violence in the media, those are all things that need to be looked at, too,” he said. “I appreciate the president's holistic look, but you can't just focus on the guns.”
Iowa Republican Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham both said they wanted to wait before delving into a gun control debate.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, noted that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is expected to re-introduce gun control legislation.
“If you told me that every gun that she wants to cover is used on the battlefield and an implement of war, that's one thing, but if you want to get into this stuff of should we ban guns that shoot more than once with the pulling of a trigger, that's a whole different story, because some of those things fall into sportsmen and into hunting,” Grassley said.
Grassley made it clear he's no gun expert, however.
“The only gun I've got is a 75-year-old, .22 rifle that is someplace in my house at the farm, and I don't even know where it is,” Grassley said.
But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, demanded that Congress act. He said he respects the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns but criticized the idea of unlimited access to the types of weapons used in recent mass shootings.
“These combat-style weapons which can fire hundreds of bullets in a very short time are designed for one purpose — to kill a large number of people in just seconds.”
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