Congressional backing grows to talk guns

Bills to control firearms seem increasingly likely to get time on 2013 legislative schedule

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WASHINGTON -- Congressional gun rights supporters showed an increased willingness Tuesday to consider new legislation to control firearms in the aftermath of the Connecticut school shootings -- provided it also addresses mental health issues and the impact of violent video games.

A former co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and 10-term House Republican Jack Kingston -- a Georgia lawmaker elected with strong National Rifle Association backing -- were the latest to join the call to consider gun control as part of a comprehensive, anti-violence effort next year.

"Put guns on the table, also put video games on the table, put mental health on the table," Kingston said.

But he added that nothing should be done immediately, saying, "There is a time for mourning and a time to sort it out. I look forward to sorting it out and getting past the grief stage."

With the nation's nerves still raw over the murders of 20 elementary school children and six teachers, White House, spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama was "actively supportive" of a plan by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to introduce legislation to reinstate an assault weapons ban. While Obama has long supported a ban, he exerted little effort to get it passed during his first term.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association, silent since the shootings, said in a statement that it "is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again." There was no indication what that might entail. The group, the best-known defender of gun ownership in America, scheduled a news conference for Friday.

Among members of Congress, Thompson, the former Sportsmen's Caucus co-chairman, was named to lead a Democratic task force on gun violence. He's a hunter, a wounded Vietnam veteran and a conservative Democrat.

"The only experience I've had with assault weapons was the one that I was trained with when I was in the Army," he said. "I know that this is not a war on guns. Gun owners and hunters across this country have every right to own legitimate guns for legitimate purposes and … we are not going to take law-abiding citizens' guns away from them."

On Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V and an NRA member, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa -- senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee -- said it's time for a debate that would include gun control. Reid previously had taken pro-gun positions for years.

Not all Republicans were willing to go as far as Grassley or Kingston, but they didn't rule out tackling gun control.

At a regular House Republican closed-door meeting Tuesday, Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, a psychologist, led a discussion on mental illness -- which he described as the primary cause of mass shootings.

Murphy said he told colleagues that mental illness was the common link in similar tragic incidents and "we have to stop pretending it doesn't exist. We need to understand what it is that triggers changes in someone."

"I see it as the center of the issue. Get mental illness out of the shadows."