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W.Va. congressional leaders speak to gun issue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As Sen. Joe Manchin indicated a willingness Monday to re-examine views on gun control in the United States, his colleague in the Senate said he would support a renewed ban on assault weapons.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, said Monday that Congress should enact stronger anti-gun laws, as well as legislation to create better access to mental-health care and stronger oversight over violent video games children play.

"Unfortunately, families lose loved ones every day as a result of gun violence. Too many young lives have been taken from us too soon," Rockefeller said. "Friday's unspeakable actions are another stark wakeup call that we must do more. This is not the time for soft words and empty promises, but a call for strong action."

Rockefeller voted for the 1994 legislation banning assault weapons. "It also included a ban of high capacity clips, and it's unacceptable that it hasn't been reauthorized.

"West Virginia has a proud hunting tradition and respect for the Second Amendment. But most hunters I talk with know that prohibiting the use of military-grade weapons or clips that can fire dozens of rounds in a matter of seconds will not impact those traditions, nor do they have a place on our streets.  We need to pass a bill that will again prohibit such weapons," Rockefeller said.

Other members of Congress treaded more carefully around the issue.

"I think all of us woke up to a different nation Saturday morning, horrified by the details of the shooting ... and demanding explanations about the increasing frequency of mindless attacks on innocent people and, now, even on our children," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

"The circumstances of this tragedy are so horrible that it demands aggressive action. Our state and nation share a collective desire to try to find some way to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, and, God forbid, from happening in our own communities."

But Rahall also called himself "a lifelong defender of the Second Amendment" and said "The causes of violence in America are bigger and broader than just firearms. I want to hear from all sides before the Congress moves forward, so we can move forward together."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said, "I am deeply saddened by the heartbreaking events in Newtown, Conn. There is no question that Friday's devastating shootings will ignite a debate.

"As legislators, it is our duty to facilitate thoughtful policy discussions in the aftermath of such a tragedy, regardless of political positions. As a mother of three and grandmother to one, I certainly have serious concerns as to how someone capable of such mass murder was able to get his hands on an assault weapon and murder 26 innocent people.

"This is a time to reflect on everything that may have contributed to this shooting, from gun laws to the level of violence in the media to how we address mental illness in this country," Capito said.

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., did not respond to a request for comment by Monday evening.

Rockefeller also wants to see a "renewed national dialogue on mental health."

State and federal budget cuts have cut back "both inpatient and community services for children and adults living with serious mental illness," Rockefeller said.

Today, West Virginia and the whole nation have "an incredible shortage of mental health providers," he said.

"It would be a travesty if we only looked at Friday's attack -- as well as the many other senseless tragedies we've seen - in silence and refuse to act. I'm pushing for that action now before we have to mourn more innocent lives lost."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.

 


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