ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.
In recent years, the issue of gun control has all but disappeared from the debate in Congress. Despite incidents of mass violence, including the shootings at Virginia Tech, lawmakers have been reluctant to propose or even discuss new gun legislation. Proponents hope that Saturdays rampage in Tucson my change that.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: It's been a lost decade for those who would restrict access to guns. In 2004, the ban on so-called assault weapons expired and Congress failed to renew it. In recent years, new federal laws have allowed guns in the national parks. Some states now allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
Last year, Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, tried to get a hearing on the so-called Gun Show loophole, which allows gun buyers to avoid a background check if they purchase a firearm from a non-registered dealer.
Representative MIKE QUIGLEY (Democrat, Illinois): Just to show you, though, the climate in D.C. about this, before this incident, my staff and I couldnt get a hearing on closing the Gun Show loophole. You know, I dont believe there was a single congressional hearing in D.C. this whole year.
NAYLOR: And that was when the House was under the control of Democrats, who at one time were seen as more sympathetic to gun control measures. Lately, as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia showed in his campaign last year, thats no longer always the case.
(Soundbite of a campaign ad)
Governor JOE MANCHIN (Democrat, West Virginia): I sued EPA and Ill take dead aim...
(Soundbite of gunfire)
Gov. MANCHIN: ...at the Cap and Trade bill.
NAYLOR: It should be noted that Manchin was shooting at a paper target in his ad, in a state where hunting and guns are part of the culture.
But Paul Helmke, president of the Brady campaign, which supports tougher gun laws, says the Manchin ad is typical of the state of play in the Capitol.
Mr. PAUL HELMKE (President, Brady Campaign): Most of our elected officials have wanted to run away from the gun issue. Theyve been doing that for years. Too many in the one party just march lockstep to the NRA. And too many in the other party are afraid of the NRA. So they avoid the issue.
NAYLOR: Lawmakers may only be reflecting public opinion. According to a Gallup poll released in October, 44 percent of Americans thought gun laws should be more strict. Compare that to 2000 when 62 percent wanted stricter gun laws, and 1990 when the number favoring stricter gun laws was 78 percent.
In the wake of the Tucson shooting, backers of tighter gun restriction say it's time to once again address the issue.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York, New York): Based on what we know so far, the system that is supposed to protect us from dangerous and deranged people has failed once again.
NAYLOR: Some lawmakers are focusing on trying to ban the type of magazine the alleged shooter had attached to his gun. It held some 30 shots.
Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley.
Rep. QUIGLEY: With a 30-round clip, you're not defending your home. You're not hunting deer. You're hunting people.
NAYLOR: Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York announced today he plans to introduce legislation banning anyone from carrying a loaded gun within 1,000 feet of a federal official, from the president down to a member of Congress.
Representative PETER KING (Republican, New York): This legislation, I believe is essential. I believe it's important. And I always believe if we can take a horrible tragedy and attempt to get something good out of it, then all is not lost.
NAYLOR: But opponents of tighter gun laws are not letting down their guard. Chris Knox of the Firearms Coalition says a law outlawing high-capacity magazines is bound to be ineffective.
Mr. CHRIS KNOX (Director of Communication, The Firearms Coalition): Im not that good and I can change a magazine in about a second and a half. It doesnt take that much you drop the magazine, you put the new one in and you go back.
Anytime you focus on the instrumentality of an act like this, you're focusing your efforts in the wrong place.
NAYLOR: Knox says efforts should be focused on preventing people with mental illnesses from obtaining firearms, and that may be one area where gun control opponents and backers can find some common ground.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.