On the hot-button issue of banning semi-automatic assault weapons, one area congressman-elect has come out swinging and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania has had a change of heart.
Casey, who just won a second term, told the Philadelphia Inquirer recently that he was haunted by images from the massacre at Newtown where Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother before murdering 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Previously, he had opposed an assault weapons ban, but since Newtown he had decided he would support one as well as a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“The power of the weapon, the number of bullets that hit each child, that was so, to me, just so chilling, it haunts me,” Casey said.
A Patch story asking Lehigh Valley readers for their opinion on an assault weapons ban drew close to 300 comments.
U.S. Representative-Elect Matt Cartwright, who will be sworn in for his first term representing the 17th District on Jan. 3, talked about his support for a ban in an op-ed piece in The Morning Call on Dec. 27.
“This kind of firepower is not necessary for hunting or self-defense,” wrote Cartwright, who fills the seat held by Rep. Tim Holden. “Our American experience has showed us example after example of assault rifles and high-capacity clips being used in mass killings of innocent people.”
Cartwright and Casey won’t have to wait long to co-sponsor legislation on a ban. Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced that she will introduce such a bill on the first day of the new session and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York plan to introduce a companion bill in the House.
Without saying categorically how they would vote on such a measure, U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-15, and Sen. Pat Toomey have steered clear of endorsing a ban.
Dent issued a statement saying he wants Congress to “examine all of the possible solutions” including such aspects as increased school security and training school personnel, reviewing measures to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, getting help for those who exhibit "severe emotional problems or violent tendencies" and looking at the role violent entertainment might play in such incidents.
Dent Spokesman Shawn Millan said the congressman isn’t endorsing the NRA position of putting a police officer or armed guard in every school. But Dent wants to look at ways to enhance security in schools so they would be more protected from attacks.
Toomey’s office, which failed to respond to a request for comment, told the Morning Call that “among other things, we need to have a discussion about the best way to better identify and protect ourselves from dangerous and mentally deranged individuals who seek to carry out such atrocities.”
Several local mayors have weighed in on the issue by signing a letter from more than 750 mayors to President Barack Obama supporting laws to “get high capacity rifles and ammunition magazines off our streets” and “require every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check.”
Among the signers were Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr., West Easton Mayor Gerald W. Gross, Wilson Mayor David Perruso and Emmaus Mayor Winfield Iobst.
The letter also says measures should be taken to beef up enforcement of gun laws already on the books, such as prosecuting people who are prohibiting from buying firearms who attempt to do so.
“In 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation referred more than 71,000 such cases to ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives], but U.S. Attorneys ultimately prosecuted only 77 of them,” the letter said.