As the first two of 26 victims fatally shot in the Newtown school shootings were laid to rest Monday, a long-dormant debate about gun control gained momentum and picked up a few unlikely backers in Washington.
“Seeing the massacre of so many innocent children has changed everything,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, an avid hunter and NRA member, said on MSNBC Monday. “Everything has to be on the table.”
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley proposed a debate on guns, The Associated Press reported, while Rep. John Yarmouth, a Kentucky Democrat who long avoided the topic apologized for his silence.
“I am now as sorry for [my silence ] as I am for what happened to the families who lost so much in this most recent, but sadly not isolated, tragedy,” Yormouth wrote in a statement.
Grieving Newtown Holds Two Funerals
His comments came as the families of two 6-year-old boys—Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto—remembered their sons' passions and quirks and the impressions they made in their tragically short lives.
Noah, the youngest victim of the attack, shot 11 times, was recalled as a mischievous boy who loved Mario Brothers and teasing his sisters, including his twin Arielle who was spared in the carnage.
At his funeral, his uncle Alexis Haller told mourners it was "unspeakably tragic that none of us can bring Noah back," and that "we would go to the ends of the Earth to do so, but none of us can."
Jack's family recalled their son's fondness for school, reading, wrestling, football and keeping "up with his big brother."
"While we are all uncertain as to how we wil ever cope without him, we choose to remember and celebrate his life," his family said in a statement. "Not dwelling on the loss but instead on the gift that we were given and will forever cherish in our hearts."
As funerals continue in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary Friday, calls to rexamine a federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 under President George W. Bush have been echoed at every level of government.
A day after President Barack Obama's Sunday trip to Newtown, where he vowed to use “whatever power this office holds” to protect the country’s children against gun violence, he met with Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others to discuss a response to the fourth mass shooting in his four years as president, The Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the author of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, is preparing to introduce new legislation to stop the sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of assault weapons, and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Police have said that 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza ambushed the elementary school with a Bushmaster AR 15 rifle—a high-powered weapon similar to the military’s M-16. Each of the 26 victims slaughtered in the attack suffered at least two bullet wounds, the state’s medical examiner said, and police have said that hundreds of unused bullets were recovered at the scene.
"There was a lot of ammo, a lot of clips," Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance said Sunday, adding that the bloodshed could have been even worse.
Besides the Bushmaster, Lanza was also carrying two handguns—all of which were legally purchased by Lanza's mother, a firearms enthusiast.
The sheer quantity of firepower found at the scene has raised questions about the need for private citizens to own the sorts of weapons and quantity of ammunition typically associated with the battlefield.
“If people want to go hunting, a single-shot rifle does the job, and that does the job to protect your home too,” Ray DiStephan told The Associated Press outside the Pozner's funeral Monday. “If you need more than that, I don’t know what to say."
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy—who cried during a press conference Monday when recounting the pain of having to break the news to parents that their children were among the dead—said that the weapons Lanza used in the attack “are not used to hunt deer.”
He urged debate on the issue and said he’d “love to hear the people argue that we need 30-round magazines and that that’s somehow tied to the right to bear arms.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime advocate of stricter gun laws, unveiled Monday a new campaign urging Congress to immediately pass legislation requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, a ban on assault weapons and new laws that would make gun trafficking a felony.
Flanked by suvivors of gun violence and family members of those who weren't as lucky, Bloomberg called Congress’ inaction on the issue a “stain on our nation’s commitment to protect our children.”
While the National Rifle Association has been silent since the shooting Friday, dismantling its Facebook page and refusing interviews, some gun supporters have argued, in the wake of the massacre, in favor of the weapons.
“Every mass killing of more than three people in recent history has been in a place where guns were prohibited,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, said on Fox News Sunday. “… They choose this place. They know no one will be armed.”
On the topic of assault weapons, he added that they “ensure against the tyranny of the government.”
As the debate continues on the national stage, the town of Newtown is taking its first steps to return to its shattered routines. Tuesday, Newtown schools—with the exception of Sandy Hook Elementary School—will reopen. Gov. Malloy signed an executive order to expedite the relocation of the district’s elementary school to an unused building in the neighboring town of Monroe, though it is unclear when those who attended Sandy Hook will begin classes again.
Meanwhile, investigators are still interviewing witnesses and working to uncover information from Lanza's hard drive, which he removed from his computer and badly damaged before launching his attack.
Lanza was interested in target shooting and had sometimes accompanies his mother to local shooting ranges to practice, federal agents said Monday, NBC News reported.
Though police say they have found "very good evidence," they have not yet shared a motive or explained why the 20-year-old would carry out such a brutal attack.