WASHINGTON -- More than two dozen House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), called for immediate action Wednesday to address gun control in the wake of Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Conn. -- beginning with a vote on legislation that would prohibit the manufacturing of high-capacity magazines as early as this week.
“Here in Congress, what we need now are not more words. What we need is action," Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill. “We must be able to tell our children that we are doing everything in our power to prevent this from happening again.”
Pelosi called on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring legislation banning the manufacturing of high capacity magazines to the House floor for a vote by Saturday. The bill, which is being pushed by Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), mirrors legislation introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in the Senate. It would ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition and prohibit the transfer, possession or importation of those weapons that are manufactured after the law is signed.
“We've been here before,” said McCarthy, who has been a vocal proponent of gun control since her husband was one of six killed when a gunman opened fire on a Long Island Rail Road train in 1993. “All too often we see these mass killings. And we mourn for those who have died in the past, and yet all our lives go on. But this time, it is different. And we all know it.”
In addition to an assault weapons ban, Pelosi laid out other critical steps to curb gun violence in the United States, such as strengthening the system for background checks, addressing access to mental health services, and dealing with a culture of violence in American society.
She also announced a new task force focused on reducing gun violence, which will be led by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), a pro-gun rights congressman and one of the few members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a dwindling group of moderate House Democrats.
“It’s time,” Thompson said. “We need to do everything we possibly can to minimize gun violence ... I've been a hunter all my life, but there's no reason to have a magazine that holds 30 shells.”
A number of the Democrats who spoke at the conference urged Republicans to join their efforts, noting that none of the approximately 125 co-sponsors of the bill to ban assault weapons were Republicans. They asked why members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, who unanimously agreed the Newtown shooting had spurred a different kind of momentum to address gun violence, were reluctant to take action on weapons designed to kill.
“There is absolutely no justification for weapons that were made for the explicit purpose of killing lots of people quickly to be in the hands of civilians,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), adding that his colleague who represents Newtown could not be present because he was attending funerals of the children who had perished. “There are no arguments against doing something.”
“We’ve got a big group up here,” he continued, gesturing toward his colleagues. “But we're a small faction of Congress. Why? Every one of us up here is a Democrat. Why?”
For many of the members on stage, the fight against gun violence was personal. Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) recalled witnessing the shooting of then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the murder of some of his colleagues in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2011.
Barber said it took a mere 45 seconds for the shooter in Tucson to inflict his damage, due to the high capacity magazine in his hands.
“[In] 45 seconds, 30 bullets were discharged from one clip,” Barber said. “[In] 45 seconds, 19 people were down. Six of them died.”
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) spoke of the murder of his son on the south side of Chicago, adding that the conversation should not be limited to mass shootings, but should also incorporate the gun violence that he said takes approximately 34 lives daily.
“We must be cognizant of the fact that gun violence has been terrorizing neighborhoods of Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Washington, D.C. for over decades now,” Rush said.
“Being in the hospital room when my son was pronounced dead ... that was bad enough, but there was a primal scream,” he continued. “It was a primal scream of a mother, a scream that's rarely duplicated anywhere ... I can't get that scream out of my consciousness.”
Pelosi acknowledged that passing an assault weapons ban would be an uphill battle. Several lawmakers have expressed a willingness to have a conversation -- or perhaps a commission -- to address gun violence, but have stopped short of supporting any policy measures.
House Democrats said they hope that support from President Barack Obama, who in the days since the Newtown shooting has committed himself to reducing gun violence, will help keep focus on the issue.
The White House has said the president supports the efforts in both the House and the Senate to deal with the proliferation of guns and subsequent violence. Obama also announced his own task force on gun violence prevention Wednesday, to be led by Vice President Joe Biden. The task force would explore proposals that address the issue no later than January.
"This is not some Washington commission," Obama told reporters at a press conference. "This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now."
“If there is even one thing we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation -- all of us -- to try," Obama added. "This time the words need to lead to action."
UPDATE: 4 p.m. -- House Speaker John Boehner has no immediate plans to take up any legislation to address gun control, his office confirmed to The Huffington Post.
"We join President Obama and all Americans in mourning the victims of this awful tragedy," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email. "When the vice president’s group makes specific proposals, we will take a look. Right now our focus is, and should be, on the victims, their families, and their community."