WASHINGTON — Supporters of tighter federal gun restrictions moved quickly Thursday, the first day of the new Congress, introducing bills in the wake of last month's deadly mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that will set up a long and contentious fight over the shape of the nation's gun laws.
Democratic Reps. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Diana DeGette of Colorado refiled the bill they had promoted in earlier Congresses and said they hoped the environment for gun laws would improve in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 students and six adults Dec. 14. The bill would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines.
"These devices are used to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time possible, and we owe it to innocent Americans everywhere to keep them out of the hands of dangerous people," McCarthy said. "We don't even allow hunters to use them — something's deeply wrong if we're protecting game more than we're protecting innocent human beings."
Despite a series of highly visible mass shootings in malls, on college campuses, at a movie theater and at workplaces, Congress has not passed any significant gun-related regulations since 2007. Since Newtown, several pro-gun legislators, such as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have called for greater restrictions.
The National Rifle Association, which has fought off many attempts to increase gun regulation, said Thursday it expected the gun control advocates to come "full force" at the NRA.
"This is something we are prepared to address with facts," said Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman.
"I think it's really put a lot of people over the edge," DeGette said of the violence in Newtown and a mass shooting in July at a theater in Aurora, Colo., her home state. "Now is the time to take a tough, principled look at what we need to do."
In addition to the magazine ban, McCarthy and DeGette reintroduced a bill that would stop the sale of ammunition online. The measure was introduced last year after the Aurora shooting.
More bills are expected soon in the Senate that will have House counterparts, said Shams Tarek, a McCarthy spokesman. They include the Fix Gun Checks Act by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., which would close loop holes that allow gun sales at shows without background checks and strengthen those checks. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has said she will reintroduce a ban on the ownership on assault weapons.
Feinstein sponsored the first ban, which was passed in 1994 and expired in 2004.
The White House, which has been quiet on gun-related legislation until Newtown, is likely to issue its plan Jan. 15. Last month, President Obama asked Vice President Biden, who helped pass the 1994 assault weapons ban while a senator, to lead the administration's effort to send proposals to Congress.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the group is focused on keeping the momentum for this debate going while lawmakers sort out the details of what can be done.
"The administration has shown tremendous leadership on this issue, there are a number of Congress people that have come out in the same way," he said. "While we're applauding every well-intentioned effort, we're looking at the issue holistically. We are not investing entirely yet in every one single solution until we really analyze all the (proposals)."
Getting these measures to the floor in both chambers could be extremely difficult. No Republican has expressed support for specific gun control measures, and the NRA has made it clear it will vehemently oppose any effort to curb gun rights.
In response to the Newtown shooting, the NRA has proposed that the government pay for armed guards in schools to prevent school shootings.
Support for stricter gun laws has risen since the Sandy Hook shooting, according to a recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said they backed tougher restrictions, an increase from 43 percent in October 2011. The poll also showed a split, as 47 percent said new laws were necessary while 46 percent said they preferred enforcing current laws.