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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
I'm Robert Siegel.
Friday's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school has placed the issue of gun control back at the fore in Washington. Over the past several years, a powerful gun owners' lobby and a lack of public interest in gun control have stymied talk of new legislation. But this weekend, as President Obama spoke to mourning families in Newtown, he posed this question.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?
SIEGEL: NPR's David Welna reports now from Capitol Hill that there are some early signs of a political shift on guns.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The first sessions of the Senate since the Newtown shootings opened today with a pointed prayer from Senate Chaplain Barry Black.
REVEREND BARRY BLACK: Make our lawmakers willing to act promptly, remembering that time is fleeting.
WELNA: Majority leader Harry Reid then called for a moment of silence. With a B-rating from the NRA, but no endorsement from that group in his last election, Reid has not been a proponent of tougher gun laws. Today, though, Reid signaled a willingness to explore how to prevent more gun slaughters.
SENATOR HARRY REID: Well, we need to accept the reality that we're not doing enough to protect our citizens. In the coming days and weeks, we'll engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow this violence to continue to grow.
WELNA: Yesterday on NBC, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein announced that on the first day the new Congress meets next month, she'll introduce a bill similar to the now-expired assault weapons ban she sponsored 18 years ago.
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation, and the possession, not retroactively but prospectively. And it will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets.
WELNA: And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced today he'll hold a hearing next month on preventing more shooting sprees.
SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: If there are practical and sensible and workable answers to prevent such unspeakable tragedy, we should make the effort to find them. And then, Mr. President, we should have the courage, each and every one of us, to vote for those steps.
WELNA: Some conservatives are joining the calls for reviewing gun laws. Mark DeMoss has close ties to evangelical groups and was an adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
MARK DEMOSS: I just think we can't keep having occurrences like these and mourn and have memorial services for a week or two, and then go on until the next one.
SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: It really has changed us. It's changed me.
WELNA: That's West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin speaking this afternoon on MSNBC. Manchin is one of 31 senators with an A-rating from the NRA. But he questions why anyone would need the kind of Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle used in the Newtown killings.
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MANCHIN: And I don't know if anybody that goes hunting with an assault rifle. I don't know anybody that needs those types of multiple clips, as far as ammunition in a gun. The most that I've ever used in my hunting rifle is three shells. Usually you get one shot and very seldom ever two. This doesn't make a lot of sense. And this has to be brought to this level now and it's a shame.
WELNA: And here's what Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner told WTVR-TV in Richmond today.
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SENATOR MARK WARNER: I had an NRA rating of A. But, you know, enough is enough. I might - I've got - I'm the father of three daughters and this weekend, they all said: Dad, you know, how can this go on? And I like, I think, most of us realize that there are ways to get to rational gun control.
WELNA: And yet, for all the signs of a renewed debate in the Democratic-controlled Senate over gun laws, the Republicans who run the House have remained largely silent.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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