Connecticut school attack unlikely to change Alaska delegation's assault weapons ban opposition

Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services

The horrific Connecticut shootings don't appear to be changing the opposition of Alaska's Congressional delegation to renewing the assault weapons ban or toughening gun laws.

The Friday killings of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School has shaken Congress like few events in recent years. But that doesn't mean there will be action.

Shooter Adam Lanza reportedly used a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, versions of which were outlawed under the 1994 assault weapons ban Congress allowed to expire in 2004. None of the three members of Alaska's Congressional delegation were eager for an interview on the issue Monday.

Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Rep. Don Young both declined interview requests on Monday. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office said she was open to an interview but was not available on Monday afternoon.

In 2009, Begich wrote Attorney General Eric Holder to say renewing the assault weapons ban would be "unacceptable."

Begich's spokespeople would not answer when asked Monday if he would now at least consider supporting such a ban or other gun-control changes in the wake of the Connecticut massacre.

Begich's office responded to the questions with a prepared statement saying Begich believes "we must start with the ever-pressing issue of mental health services in this country."

The office of Murkowski, who in her 2008 campaign declared she helped end the "so-called assault weapons ban," also would not say if she'd consider tougher gun laws.

"Sen. Murkowski's top priority in the coming days is to pray and mourn for the victims of Newtown and their families. In the near future, we will seriously discuss the issues that led to the Newtown shooting, and whether we are doing all we need to do to protect our children and one another," Murkowski's office said in a prepared statement in response to questions.

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young's office was more straightforward about his position on the issues.

"Congressman Young has not and will not support an assault weapons ban, and believes any such ban would be an infringement on an individual's Second Amendment rights. The conversation going forward should be larger than any one gun law; it should be about how we diagnose and treat mental illness in this country," said Young's spokesman, Mike Anderson.

History shows that shocks like the Connecticut shooting often result in an incremental change but little more. But gun control backers were heartened Monday that many Democrats, including President Barack Obama, who for years have been reluctant to speak out for tougher gun laws, weren't holding back.

"I actually think things could change. The terrible nature of this shooting has the potential to transform the national debate," said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Washington's Brookings Institution.

There were some signs Monday that was occurring. "This has changed the dialogue, and it should move beyond the dialogue. We need action," Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and avid hunter said on the MSNBC "Morning Joe" television program.

Changing the nation's gun laws, though, won't be easy.

"I think that between election results and court decisions that a consensus has been settled on both sides that gun control is a non-starter," said Keith Appell, a Virginia-based Republican strategist.

Appell said the shooting will prompt gun-control advocates to produce legislation "but it probably will not result in anything."

The nation remains divided over how or whether to regulate firearms, and the gun lobby remains one of the Capitol's most powerful.

The National Rifle Association alone spent more than 10 times as much as gun-control groups on lobbying last year and in the first nine months of this year, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The center found that last year was the most active election cycle in a dozen years for gun interest groups, as they gave $3 million to candidates, 96 percent of them Republicans, through mid-October. That includes $12,517 for Alaska Rep. Young's re-election.

Gun-control groups barely registered in the most recent election cycle, giving only $4,000, all to Democrats.

Eric Pratt, spokesman for Gun Owners of America, said on Monday if there's to be a discussion on gun legislation it "should lead to a greater ability to protect one's self... "Sadly, they (gun-control advocates) will try to exploit this to make people less safe."

Some Republicans agreed. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican said: "I wish to God she (the Sandy Hook principal) had had an M-4 (rifle) in her office," so she could have taken it out and "takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids."

Democrats countered with quick calls for gun-control action.

Among Democrats urging quick action was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, of California, architect of the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.Feinstein said she plans to mount a new effort in the wake of the shootings in the Connecticut. Others pledged support.

"We should stop making emotional room in our hearts for each year's new round of public shootings and killing sprees," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona.

McClatchy reporters Jim Rosen and Bill Douglas contributed to this story. Follow Sean Cockerham on twitter @seancockerham

Sean Cockerham
McClatchy Newspapers