Conn. Senator Introduces Ban On Assault Weapons

David Greene talks with Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut about the prospects for gun-control legislation in the next Congress. Blumenthal has spent the past several days in Newtown, where more than 20 people were killed in a school massacre.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One person who did have a lot to say about gun control is Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. He spent several days with grieving residents in Newtown. The Democrat then returned to Washington, and on the Senate floor yesterday, made an emotional plea for stricter gun control. We spoke to him just afterwards.

Senator, this has been a horrible time for the people of your state. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: I appreciate being with you. It has been a very tough time for the people of Newtown and the families who are still grieving, and the people of Connecticut.

GREENE: You returned and came onto the floor of the Senate, and it really sounds like it was a call to action in your speech. And I'm wondering what exactly you're calling for. What new piece of legislation would be your first priority?

BLUMENTHAL: My first item on the agenda is a ban on assault weapons. I do believe that there are steps we can take, like banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, providing treatment or outreach for the mentally ill and deranged - at least keeping firearms out of their hands - and stronger support for enforcement by local, state and federal law enforcement so that existing laws, as well as new measures, can be enforced.

But, of course, there's no cure-all, no single or simple solution. And I feel that the political ground is changing, that tectonically, political changes are making possible - maybe for the first time in recent history - some effective action to stem and stop gun violence.

GREENE: To take nothing away from this horrific tragedy, I mean, there was also an outpouring of grief after a tragedy like the Columbine shootings. And since then, an assault weapons ban in the country dropped away. Congress doesn't have one on the books anymore. So does that not show that the tragedies don't always lead to a moment when politicians come together and pass stricter gun control laws?

BLUMENTHAL: There have been other tragedies, not to take away from any of them - Columbine, Aurora, Oak Ridge - that involve loss of life equally tragic. But there has been a shift in the positions of some of the members of the Senate. Senator Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Warner of Virginia, Senator Reid, the majority leader, have all spoken out on this issue, calling attention to the need for action.

And my private conversations with many of my colleagues indicate that they are revisiting or rethinking their views and positions.

GREENE: So privately, you've had conversations with people who were skeptical of stricter gun control in the past, and you feel that they're making a turn.

BLUMENTHAL: Making a turn may be too strong of a view at this point, but they are certainly revisiting and reconsidering. You know, what kind of hunter uses a 30-round magazine? What kind of self-defense situation is best served by an assault weapon? These kinds of questions, I think, have moved people to reconsider their positions and whether they make a turn or simply welcome an initiative, I think the semantics are less important than the action that we can take.

GREENE: One thing you said on the floor of the Senate is that there will always be mentally deranged or hateful people who want to lash out violently at the world. And I just wonder, as you look at the different possible solutions to this, there are some who say that the priorities should be focusing on mental health, that there are millions of guns in the country already, and bringing back the assault weapons ban is just not the solution that's going to prevent another tragedy like this. How do you respond to those types of things?

BLUMENTHAL: I think people like Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia are right in calling for more resources, going to state and local mental health efforts, providers who intervene and give treatment, identify people who may be troubled and who should not be in possession of firearms. But there's no single solution, and we don't need to list them in order of importance. We can move forward with all of them.

GREENE: Thank you very much for the time, sir.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

GREENE: That's Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a Democratic Senator from the state of Connecticut.

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