Congressional Democrats showed signs Monday of a more aggressive push on gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., killings, while Republicans and gun-rights advocates remained largely silent on policy matters.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., the pro-gun-rights senator who drew attention in 2010 after running a commercial that showed him firing a rifle at an environmental bill, said that "everything should be on the table" as gun control is debated in the coming weeks and months.
Rep. John Yarmuth, a moderate Democrat from Kentucky, held a news conference to say he backed new legislation.
"I have been largely silent on the issue of gun violence over the past six years, and I am now as sorry for that as I am for what happened to the families who lost so much in this most recent, but sadly not isolated, tragedy," Yarmuth said in a statement. "The National Rifle Association has spent untold millions of dollars instilling fear in our citizens and our politicians."
He added, "I believe it is more rational to fear guns far more than the illusory political power of the NRA."
And in a Twitter message sent out before a television appearance, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., called the episode a "game changer."
The NRA has been largely silent since the shootings Friday morning. On Monday, the home page of its website contained a blog post from Nov. 27, titled "More Guns, Less Crime in Virginia," and the association's Twitter account, which is normally active, has not sent a message since Friday.
It remains unclear whether any new legislation is likely to pass, especially given that Congress remains focused on budget matters for the time being. President Barack Obama said at a memorial service that he planned to take executive action to reduce shootings, although he has not yet specified what that action might be.
Remarks on Monday from the two leaders of the Senate, Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., underscored how difficult it will be to challenge the status quo. Both men, though far apart ideologically on most political issues, come from states where gun rights are especially cherished. And both made rather muted remarks on Monday.
Speaking from the floor of the Senate, Reid said the country was failing to keep people safe, though he did not go as far as his colleagues in calling for new laws. "As President Obama said last night, no one law can erase evil. No policy can prevent a determined madman from committing a senseless act of violence," he said. "But we need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens."
McConnell entirely sidestepped the question of gun control, limiting his statement only to expressions of sadness and sympathy. "So we stand with the people of Newtown today and in the days ahead," he said. "We can do nothing to lessen their anguish, but we can let them know that we mourn with them, that we share a tiny part of their burden in our own hearts."
But the tone of the political debate does seem to have shifted, at least temporarily, following the shootings, in which a gunman killed 27 people, including 20 children.
Manchin, an avid hunter with an A rating from the NRA, indicated that he supported re-evaluating laws that permit people to have clips that hold dozens of rounds of ammunition and to own assault rifles.
"I don't know anybody in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle," Manchin said, speaking on the MSNBC program "Morning Joe." "I don't know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about."
Still, other prominent Democrats went further, calling outright for tougher laws.
Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chairman of a subcommittee on the Constitution and civil rights, said he would hold hearings on Second Amendment rights.
And Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who was with San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978 as he lay dying from an assassin's bullet, said she would introduce legislation that would ban the sale and possession of large clips of ammunition and strips that hold more than 10 bullets.
Durbin wrote an article published by The Chicago Tribune on Monday in which he argued for new limits on weapons ownership.
"What will it take?" Durbin wrote, listing one by one the U.S. mass shootings that have occurred over the past few years. "What it will take is for the majority of Americans, and the majority of thoughtful gun owners and hunters, to agree that there must be reasonable limits on gun ownership and weapons."
With passions running high after the Newtown massacre, Democrats said they anticipated a call from gun rights advocates to resist emotional calls to rewrite gun laws. And advocates for changes are certain to face a tough battle as they run up against one of Washington's most powerful and well-financed lobbies.
Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, at a news conference Monday, also waded into a discussion about gun laws, saying that while Connecticut has some of the toughest, more could still be done both in terms of legislation and in addressing mental health policies. He said he thought Washington also needed "to get its act together and enact stricter gun control laws at the federal level."
Malloy said limiting the size of ammunition clips was a "common sense piece of legislation." At the state level, 30-round clips could be limited to 10, he said, and added "in this case that one difference could very well have been significant; and I suspect it would have been."
Malloy said that he supported the "opportunity to hunt" and the "strictest definition of the Second Amendment," but that the number of assault weapons in circulation was "way out of control" and "not something that I support."