WASHINGTON -- There aren't many Republican lawmakers publicly endorsing the idea of passing bills targeting gun violence, but Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) says he's talked to plenty of them in private who say they're ready to vote for measures that would restrict certain people's access to guns.
Thompson, who is chairing the newly formed House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said he's met "with every imaginable community of interest" on the issue of gun violence in recent weeks -- including House Republicans -- and pointed to several gun measures that have quiet bipartisan support.
Bills that could move through the House "will be, for lack of a better term, the easier ones: background checks, enhanced prosecutions, mental health," Thompson said during a Monday panel on gun violence, hosted by the Center for American Progress.
"We need to do so much more with regard to mental health," he added. "There will be a lot of Republicans who support that. So I feel pretty confident that we can find some middle ground on some of these issues."
At least two conservative Republican lawmakers have already signaled they could support some type of gun control. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said last week that he may be open to restricting the size of magazines. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he, too, would be open to changes to high-capacity gun magazines, along with better background checks.
Thompson is one of 12 House Democrats meeting with Vice President Joe Biden on Monday to discuss gun violence, an issue that has taken center stage since last month's shootings at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school. Biden is leading the White House effort on the issue and has been soliciting proposals from various interest groups over the past few weeks. He is expected to present President Barack Obama with his recommendations on Tuesday.
Thompson told reporters that he is "very optimistic" that the House can muster up the votes to pass certain gun bills, despite the fact that lawmakers in both parties will face tremendous pressure from the National Rifle Association, which is strongly opposed to any legislation that affects gun rights.
"They're going to have to get there how they have to get there," Thompson said of Republicans who will have to defend votes for gun measures. "But I believe there are a number of them who we'll have agreement with on some parts of this sum."
Some gun proposals face a tougher climb in Congress, namely a renewed assault weapons ban. But Thompson was optimistic that progress can be made by focusing on areas where there is common interest. Asked if he thinks the House has the votes right now to pass a bill to tighten background checks on gun owners, Thompson said that bill would be "a great first step" and predicted that "eventually a bill to strengthen background checks will pass."
Even if Congress only passed a bill that enhanced background checks and prevented people with mental health problems from owning firearms, "You've accomplished quite a bit," he added.
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Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
"I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html"><em>Fox News Sunday</em></a>. He argued that shooters often choose schools because they know people will be unarmed.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)
"If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," he <a href="http://www.wtop.com/610/3162096/Gov-Is-it-time-to-arm-school-officials">told WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show</a> Tuesday, warning that Washington may respond to such a policy with a "knee-jerk reaction."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) & State Sen. Frank Niceley (R)
Gov. Haslam says he will consider a Tennessee plan to secretly arm and train some teachers, <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/tennessee-armed-teachers.php">TPM reports</a>. The legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) next month. "Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn’t know which teacher has training, then he wouldn’t know which one had [a gun]," Niceley told TPM. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they’re going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."
Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) & State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R)
State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20121217_336_0_OKLAHO168827">told the Tulsa World</a> he plans to file legislation that would bring guns into schools, calling their absence "irresponsible." “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," he said. "I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come." Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) told the Tulsa World that teachers should carry concealed weapons at school events. "Allowing teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits the ability to have weapons at school events would provide both a measure of security for students and a deterrent against attackers," he said.
Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)
Baxley, who once sponsored Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, <a href="http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2012/12/17/florida-legislator-allow-guns-in-schools/">told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune </a>that keeping guns out of schools makes them a target for attacks. “We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," he said. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
At a Tea Party event Monday night, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rick-perry-guns-in-schools_n_2322185.html">Perry praised a Texas school system that allows some staff to carry concealed weapons to work</a> and encouraged local school districts to make their own policies.
Minnesota State Rep. Tony Cornish (R)
Cornish <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22736&Itemid=57">plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to arm themselves</a>, according to the AP.
Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R)
In an email <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oregon-state-rep-dennis-richardson-teacher-guns-stopped-connecticut-shooting_n_2317444.html?ir=Education">obtained by Gawker</a> and excerpted below, Richardson tells three superintendents that he could have saved lives had he been armed and in Sandy Hook on Friday: <blockquote>If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide. ... [O]ur children's safety depends on having a number of well-trained school employees on every campus who are prepared to defend our children and save their lives?</blockquote>
Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett
"And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," Bennett, who served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/bill-bennett-education-secretary-connecticut-shooting_n_2311774.html">told <em>Meet the Press</em> Sunday</a>. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. It has to be someone who's trained, responsible. But, my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to."