WASHINGTON As President Barack Obama offered the boldest gun-control package to hit Congress in decades, the reaction from the Washington state congressional delegation on Wednesday was anything but bold.
It was mostly cautious, with members careful to offer something to people on both sides of whats sure to become one of the most heated debates of the new year on Capitol Hill.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, long an advocate of banning assault weapons, said the president had put forward a series of sensible steps that will help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and address mental health concerns that can lead to isolated individuals carrying out mass shootings.
I absolutely respect the rights of millions of responsible law-abiding gun owners across our state and nation, but I also agree with so many of them that we must take common-sense steps to get weapons of war off our streets, she said.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, part of the House GOP leadership team, said that Congress should focus on every opportunity to make schools and families safer as it contends with the fallout of the December school massacre in Connecticut.
But the congresswoman from Spokane offered no support for the presidents plan, saying only that it would be looked at by the appropriate committees in the House.
Rep. Adam Smith, a Bellevue Democrat and member of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, appeared to go the furthest in supporting the presidents proposal, which he called an initial plan. Smith said the nation faces an epidemic of gun violence and that Congress needs to improve access to mental health services, close loopholes in background check requirements and ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Both of the states senators also favor a crackdown on assault weapons. After last months shooting, Murray said she had repeatedly voted for an assault weapons ban and was prepared to do so again, while Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell noted that she voted for the first assault weapons ban as a House member in 1994.
We need to get powerful assault weapons off our streets, Cantwell said. And we need to strengthen services for the mentally ill and their families.
But Obama faces a tough sell with some members of his own party.
Democratic Rep. Denny Heck of Olympia, one of three freshmen in the states congressional delegation, said through his spokesman that he is committed to protecting the Second Amendment and the traditions of sportsmen but wants to ensure that children are not scared of getting shot at school.
He does not and will not support any legislation that takes guns away from law-abiding Americans, said Phil Gardner, Hecks press secretary. He added that the congressman has been listening to ideas from his constituents on how to prevent mass shootings but that he not signed on to any legislation and that he would take a close look at Obamas plan.
Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, a former King County sheriff from Auburn, said he would work for permanent solutions in the bid to prevent gun violence. He intends to introduce a bill that would authorize the use of existing federal funds to improve school safety by upgrading school technology and infrastructure, allowing the money to be spent on such things as metal detectors or school safety officers as a way to stop potential assailants.
I believe that there are ways to prevent gun violence that balance our obligations under the Second Amendment and our duty to ensure the safety of our citizens, Reichert said. Ideas such as providing resources for school security, repairing our mental health system, sharing best practices, and making databases and background checks more comprehensive are all steps in the right direction.
Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-0009