02/07/2013 03:59 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2013

House Democrats Unveil Gun Control Package, Signal Uphill Battle

LANSDOWNE, Va. -- House Democrats unveiled a comprehensive set of recommendations to reduce gun violence on Thursday, but conceded that a piecemeal approach might be the only feasible way to see measures pass through both chambers of a divided Congress.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), chair of the gun violence prevention task force, outlined a broad package of gun control reforms during a media availability at the annual House Democratic Issues Conference. Flanked by leadership, the congressman echoed comments from Vice President Joe Biden the night before -- insisting that the government has an obligation to the country to respond to December's elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and other massacres before it.

"We can't relive what just happened in Newtown. We can't relive what happened in Aurora," Thompson said. "We can't relive any of the major tragedies, nor can we continue to live in a society where 32 people a day are killed with firearms."

The plan mirrors the White House's gun control agenda, introduced by President Barack Obama last month: It calls for reinstating the assault weapons ban; limiting high-capacity magazines; implementing comprehensive background checks; strengthening background check databases; addressing mental health and preventing the mentally ill from purchasing firearms; cracking down on illegal gun trafficking and straw-purchasing; and other initiatives that would strengthen security across schools and communities in the United States.

But uncertainty remains over whether there is enough support to muster the more far-reaching reforms -- such as bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, or even comprehensive background checks -- through either chamber. House Democratic leadership declined to make predictions over the fate of more contentious legislation and instead insisted that some pieces could still be passed today.

"This is a comprehensive package," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "That does not mean that if parts of it are not adopted, that the rest of it does not make common sense or will be helpful in protecting the American public."

"My presumption is my Republican colleagues want to protect children, families and communities," Hoyer added later, pointing out that the 1994 assault weapons ban was a bipartisan effort.

When asked specifically if she thought an assault weapons ban could pass, or whether House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would even bring it up for a vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dodged the question and simply pledged to continue and fight for its reinstatement.

"I don't know what the justification is for an assault weapon," she said. "I think that we have to try to have the boldest possible package [that] reduces gun violence, and I don't think that we should try to find the slowest route right now. I think we should move as boldly as possible and see where we come out, rather than throwing in the towel on something that has no justification."

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that Obama "has long supported" reinstating the assault weapons ban and will press for it to get a vote -- which, according to Hill aides, may well be as far as it gets.

"He understands that these issues are difficult, that achieving them will not be easy, but he is committed to pressing forward on them and to enlisting the support of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate of both parties in the effort," Carney said. "As for the assault weapons ban, in particular, I think he said on Sunday and I know he believes that this needs to come to a vote."

Democratic leaders showed signs that they're aware of the risks of taking on gun legislation. Members repeatedly said they aren't trying to infringe on Second Amendment rights to bear arms, and many reminded reporters that they are gun owners themselves.

"This proposal and subsequent legislation will be fully respective of the Second Amendment," Crowley said. "Everything accompanied in this proposal is supported by most Americans, some of them more than others."

Pelosi made a point in introducing Thompson to say he is a gun owner and a hunter, and he repeated it.

"I'm not interested in giving up my guns, and I wouldn't ask anyone else to give up their guns," Thompson said. "But it's more than just personal belief on my part. It's the Constitution."

But he said he still supports the assault weapons ban, citing again his own experience with weapons. Thompson is a veteran and served in the Vietnam War, where he said he carried an assault weapon.

"I've seen them in action, I know what they're used for, I know what they're designed for, and I know what they can do," Thompson said. "They don't have any place in our streets or in our communities. If I never saw another assault weapon, I've seen too many."



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