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Democrats, GOP split on guns

| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 12:21 a.m.
Jasmine Goldband
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle points to the crowd at the Allegheny County Democrat election party at IBEW in the South Side Tuesday, November 6, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin joined a growing chorus of Democrats, including several in Pennsylvania, who say the country needs to tighten gun laws following the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

But Republicans say that before passing any laws, Congress needs to learn more about what happened on Friday, when Connecticut State Police say Adam Lanza shot 27 people and himself, including 20 first-graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Police say he killed the children with a semi-automatic rifle similar to the military's M-16.

“I just don't understand the civilian use for semiautomatic weapons, or these clips that hold 30 rounds. That's not how you hunt deer,” said Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills. Doyle said he supports reinstating a ban on military-style rifles that expired in 2004. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who wrote the 1994 ban, said on Sunday she plans to reintroduce it.

“If this young man went into his mother's house and all she had was a six-shooter and a hunting rifle, there would not have been this many dead,” Doyle said.

Connecticut's gun laws made it illegal for him to possess the weapons he used, said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. Police say he got the guns — a Bushmaster rifle and two semiautomatic pistols — from his mother after killing her.

“What wasn't being addressed was ... his mental illness. I don't want to get distracted” by gun control, said Murphy, a former child psychologist who treats military members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Untreated mental illness has been the thread in mass shootings from Virginia Tech, where a gunman in 2007 shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17, to Newtown, he said. “That is the key feature.”

Manchin and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, both National Rifle Association-endorsed Democrats, swung their support on Monday to reinstating the weapons ban. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Philadelphia, said Congress should go further by requiring more extensive background checks, closing the so-called gun show loophole — which allows people to buy guns at shows without a background check — and restricting gun purchases to one a month.

Guns such as the Bushmaster rifle don't “belong in anybody's hands unless they've got a uniform on and they're fighting for the United States,” Brady said.

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, said it's too soon for specific proposals.

The shooting “has sparked a national debate about gun rights, the culture of violence our children are routinely exposed to and mental health treatment in America,” Kelly said. “We need to review all of the facts surrounding this horrendous act of violence and continue to have an informed discussion about ways to prevent another devastating attack on innocent American lives.”

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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