Gun control proposals get tepid response from state's lawmakers

By Rob Hotakainen, Herald Washington, D.C., BureauJanuary 17, 2013 

WASHINGTON -- As President Obama offered the boldest gun-control package to hit Congress in decades, the reaction from the Washington congressional delegation on Wednesday was anything but bold.

It was mostly cautious, with members careful to offer something to people on both sides of what's 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 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 president's plan, saying only that it would be looked at by "the appropriate committees in the House."

"We will listen to families and talk to the foremost experts, whether in the area of mental health or youth violence, to find an approach to prevent future tragedies and keep American families safe," McMorris Rodgers said.

Republican Rep. Doc Hastings of Pasco also focused on the need for examining "the role that mental illness played in these events, and provide better ways to help individuals suffering from mental illness and their families."

"I do not believe that recent tragic events should be used to place further restrictions on law-abiding citizens who legally own guns or want to obtain them through legal means," he said.

Rep. Adam Smith, a Bellevue Democrat and member of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, appeared the go the farthest in supporting the president's 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 service, close loopholes in background check requirements and ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Both of the state's senators also favor a crackdown on assault weapons.

After last month's 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 state's 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.

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