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Gun debate lights up phone lines in congressional offices

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 11:22 p.m.

Mass shootings, ammunition shortages and fear that government might snatch away gun rights have driven new voices to the gun control debate, and congressional offices are hearing from them.

Sen. Bob Casey's office has received more than 500 calls on the issue since mid-December, with about 60 percent in favor of reforming gun laws and 40 percent against.

Most of the 200 calls to the office of Rep. Mike Doyle, a Forest Hills Democrat, were “very heavily in favor of doing something.”

In one Arizona House district, calls were said to be running 9-to-1 against gun control measures.

Casey, D-Scranton, a longtime supporter of gun rights who got high marks from the National Rifle Association, softened his stance in the days after a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults Dec. 14 in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The senator “believes a comprehensive solution is needed, including common-sense steps like the reinstatement of a ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” said his spokesman, John Rizzo.

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, received a “considerable number of calls,” most of them from constituents asking him to defend their Second Amendment right to bear arms, spokeswoman Julia Thornton said.

Kelly “believes that any effort to curb the type of senseless violence we've seen in recent shooting massacres should be a measured and holistic approach, not merely a singular focus on gun policies,” Thornton said.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, did not return calls for comment.

As lawmakers pondered what to do, organizers of this weekend's Washington Gun Show & Sale at the Washington County Fairgrounds advertised more than 450 vendors and Saturday night gun auctions. The show, hosted by ARH Sport Shop in Claysville, could draw crowds; gun stores in Pennsylvania and elsewhere reported brisk sales and difficulty in restocking shelves in recent weeks.

The rush to “get something done” could be the Obama administration's biggest failing, said Edward Leddy, a retired professor of criminology and sociology at St. Leo University in Norfolk and an expert on the politics of gun control.

“My greatest concern is the old ideas that failed in the past are being recycled,” said Leddy, a former New York parole officer. “Some of the plans being talked about wouldn't work for 10 to 20 years and would cost a lot of money.”

Yet pressure for action is building.

As he prepares a legislative package for President Obama's review, Vice President Joe Biden said he might suggest multiple approaches to curbing gun violence, such as addressing mental health and cultural issues. A task force led by Biden plans to make recommendations on Tuesday.

Obama has endorsed renewing an assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004, improving background checks on gun purchasers and restricting the capacities of ammunition magazines.

Gun control advocates formed groups to pressure politicians.

“I do think we're at the tipping point in this country,” said Shannon Watts, a stay-at-home mom from Indianapolis who founded One Million Moms for Gun Control one day after the Sandy Hook massacre. The group has 75 chapters, including one in Pittsburgh.

“It's clear to me this is a priority. ... There is a sense of urgency,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePa, one of several advocacy groups that met with Biden last week. “Nobody wants to see this be a task force that produces a report that just sits on a shelf.”

Some lawmakers are taking a careful approach.

Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, a psychologist from Upper St. Clair, said the common link in mass shootings is “the perpetrator had an underlying, untreated mental illness.”

“I am determined to make sure Congress doesn't overlook the fact that we can't have this discussion without addressing policies related to mental illness, because it's not what is in a person's hand that makes the act violent; it is what's in his mind,” Murphy said.

Most calls to the office of freshman GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus of Sewickley were from parents looking to protect children, said his spokesman, Edward Yap.

“As a father of six, Congressman Rothfus looks forward to a broad discussion with his colleagues and his constituents about these issues,” Yap said.

Doyle, who received an F rating from the NRA, supports a renewed ban.

“I'm ready to take a look at (a plan) tomorrow,” said Doyle. “I don't want to see time pass ... and nothing gets done. I just don't understand civilian use of military weapons. Who needs a clip with 30 rounds in it?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 412-380-5646or

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