WASHINGTON — Hours after learning of a shooting massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the nine members of Colorado’s congressional delegation released a joint statement that expressed sympathy and offered help to the 26 victims, family members, and their neighbors.
“We are angry and heartbroken at the news of another horrifying and senseless school shooting,” the statement said. “Our deepest and heartfelt prayers and thoughts are with the children, families, teachers, school officials, law enforcement, first responders and the entire community of Newtown who are impacted by this tragedy. Please know all of us in Colorado are here to support and provide comfort and strength to Connecticut in the days, weeks and months ahead.”
Five months earlier, members of the delegation made similar statements after a shooting massacre in Aurora, Colo. in which 12 people were killed and 58 injured.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden) stood on the House floor to request that members observe a moment of silence for the victims and expressed sympathy and offer help to them and their families.
“(A)s I said once before, and as our Governor said, we will remember these people who were hurt, and we will help them all along the way,” Perlmutter said.
Although Perlmutter and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver) endorsed greater restrictions on guns after the Aurora shootings, the similarities were striking. Again, a lone gunman had burst into a gun-free zone and murdered innocent victims on a Friday with a Bushmaster assault rifle; and again, most members of the Colorado congressional delegation, like those in many delegations, had released statements that were heavy on empathy and light on policy.
“(I)t’s hard to read any policy statement into it, no less any evidence that members have changed their policy stances,” Seth Masket, an associate professor and chair of the political science department at the University of Denver, said of the delegation’s letter Friday.
Except for Perlmutter and DeGette, most members of the Colorado congressional delegation have said the country should enforce existing gun regulations rather than add new curbs. The preference for enforcement over new regulations was both non-ideological and non-partisan.
Conservative House Republicans did not urge for the repeal of gun-free zones or the arming of employees at the Aurora movie complex or schools; Democratic senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet did not urge that the assault weapon ban be reinstated.
Most members of the Centennial State’s congressional delegation did not return to Washington until Sunday or Monday, so members’ latest reaction to the Newtown shootings is difficult to discern. Yet a few signs indicate the national legislative debate over gun regulations is fluid.
On Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) suggested on an MSNBC television show he would support restricting high-capacity ammunition clips and assault rifles, such as those that the alleged Newtown gunman used.
“I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don’t know anyone that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting,” Manchin said.
Manchin noted the murder of 20 children, all 6 to 7 years old, might have tipped public opinion toward more gun regulations.
“I think opening up and seeing the massacre of so many innocent children, it’s changed. It’s changed America. “We’ve never seen this happen,” Manchin added.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada also signaled that gun control regulation would be on the table. “(W)e will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate,” he said Monday.
President Obama has called for “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this,” but has not endorsed specific regulations.
Senators have more been more vocal about gun curbs than House members, though. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) retreated from comments he made to the Washington Post that Congress should discuss “the intersection of a lethal weapon and how it relates to mental health.”
Rep. Jared Polis too has discussed the importance of mental health, but has not connected it to gun regulations.
On his Twitter feed Monday, the Boulder Democrat called for more services to those suffering from mental illness, such as the alleged Newtown shooter, although the nature of his condition has not been determined.
“(I)t’s time to talk about mental-health issues,” Polis wrote in one tweet. In another he wrote, “(W)e need better mental health resources.”