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Connecticut Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Jim Himes took to social media to speak out on the shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. / Dave Collins, AP

WASHINGTON-The Connecticut elementary school massacre that left 27 dead, including 20 school children, is fueling renewed calls by activists and Democratic lawmakers for a gun control debate that Washington has avoided for nearly two decades.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the shooting is cause for a "sustained and thoughtful" debate in the next session of Congress about the nation's gun laws. "When senseless mass shootings reach into our kindergartens and elementary schools, one has to question what is happening to America," she said.

Her call was echoed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. "I am challenging President Obama, the Congress and the American public to act on our outrage and, finally, do something about this," he said.

Governors and mayors across the country also called for tougher gun laws on Friday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., said it was time for a "crackdown" on guns and pledged his support.

A coalition of mayors, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also called for action. "Innocent children will now never attend a prom, never play in a big game, never step foot on a college campus," Menino said,

"Now is the time for a national policy on guns that takes the loopholes out of the laws, the automatic weapons out of our neighborhoods and the tragedies like today out of our future," he said.

Republicans have traditionally opposed stricter gun regulations, as do many Democrats in rural and conservative states, so enhancing gun control laws faces significant odds in a divided Congress.

The gun lobby is one of the best-funded and most powerful forces in American politics. National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre, in a Dec. 3 interview with conservative Glenn Beck's program, criticized how tragedies are cast as a reason for gun control.

"We've seen it a thousand times over and over and over," LaPierre said. "The media seizes on the back of this national tragedy to try to piggyback their anti-Second Amendment national agenda right on top of the back of the national tragedy and try to force it on Americans all over the country," he said.

In an interview with CNN the same day, LaPierre predicted a gun battle was brewing for the next Congress, which starts in January. "I think it is going to come hard, I think it is going to come fast, and I think it is going to come soon," he said.

President Obama has previously supported policies, including the assault weapons ban, but he has not made gun rights a signature issue of his presidency. Obama did not call for any new gun restrictions in his Friday statement, saying only "meaningful action" would be required to prevent similar tragedies.

The last major legislative battle over the nation's gun laws was in 1994, when President Clinton signed the assault weapons restricting the civilian use of semi-automatic firearms. The bruising political battle is widely cited as a factor that cost the Democratic Party control of Congress that same year. Washington has largely shied away from contentious gun battles since, and every effort to renew the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, has failed.

The Connecticut shooting at the height of the holiday season is the latest in a series of high-profile mass shootings, including the January 2011 shooting at a Tucson-area constituent event hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., which left six dead and Giffords badly wounded with a gunshot to the head, and the July 2012 shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that killed 12 people.

Friday's shooting also comes on the heels of high profile shootings, including a Tuesday shooting spree in a Portland, Ore., shopping mall that left three dead and the murder-suicide by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher.

Jim Johnson, the chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence and the chief of the Baltimore County Police Department, told USA TODAY in an interview that he was calling for a national commission on gun violence to offer recommendations on how to reform the nation's gun laws.

Specifically, he said his organization supports a national background check system for gun buyers and tougher restrictions on gun sales. Johnson said previous efforts have been unsuccessful due to the strength of the gun lobby but "America is waking up to gun violence issue. I believe America is ready for change on this issue."

He added: "Most moms and dads and people across America want measures that can be taken that are reasonable and effective at preventing the kind of tragedies that we had this morning."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Shooting prompts calls for tougher gun laws

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