The man chosen by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to lead a Democratic task force on gun violence told TPM on Thursday that the rifle used in the Newtown, Conn. massacre should be illegal under a new assault weapons ban.
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) said that the AR-15 type gun would be among the things targeted in his ideal version of a ban. “You mean the Bushmaster?” Thompson said. “Yeah, in my view, it would.”Thompson’s view could signal a push for a new assault weapons ban that goes further than the old one did. As the AP reported Thursday, the ban in place from 1994 to 2004 wouldn’t have prevented the mother of gunman Adam Lanza from buying the gun in the first place. The Hartford Courant noted this week that Connecticut’s current tougher-than-most ban on assault weapons didn’t cover the type of gun used in Newtown, either.
But a tougher gun ban would actually be good news for gun owners, Thompson said. He’s a gun owner and avid hunter and said fellow firearms enthusiasts hurt their cause when guns like the Bushmaster rifle pop up on TV. Last week, authorities said Lanza used the high-powered rifle to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. He also used it to kill his mother, who owned an array of firearms.
“I think that they bring with them a cloud that hangs over the heads of hunters and shooters, law abiding, mentally stable individuals who own firearms,” Thompson said.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t know much about guns. And there’s a lot of people that don’t own guns and don’t like guns. And when they see these military-type assault weapons, that leads them to believe that that’s what all the guns are like and we ought to get rid of all of them,” Thompson continued. “So I think we hurt ourselves with those types of guns. Ourselves being law-abiding, mentally-stable gun owners.”
Like many in Washington these days, he said “everything should be on the table” when it comes to reducing gun violence in the country. But he’s also in favor of the kind of bans that have been on the gun control agenda for years.
“I don’t believe that military-type assault weapons and assault magazines have any benefits to our neighborhoods and our societies and our communities,” he said.
But Thompson comes at the issue from a slightly different perspective than many in his caucus. Guns & Ammo called him one of “8 Surprisingly Pro-Gun Democrats” back in September. Thompson said it’s not just urban liberals who want to see assault weapons gone.
“I’ve had friends of mine who are gun owners and hunters who, if you look at the political spectrum, if they took another step to the right, they’d fall of the edge. They don’t want assault weapons on the street. They don’t want assault clips on the street,” he said. “They want us to do something.”
Some of those conservative friends of his might be among those calling for arming teachers in the wake of Newtown. Thompson is not a fan of that idea, calling it a “real stretch.”
“It’s hard enough to hit a paper target with a gun when you’re not moving and it’s not moving, you know?” he said. “I don’t think you can train people enough to be proficient in a situation like a crowded theater or a crowded shopping mall.”
The Thompson-led task force will address more than just gun regulations, though Thompson expressed interest in both the assault weapons ban and a ban on large-capacity magazines. He intends to lead discussions on mental health reform as well. Many politicians have also called for a discussion of “the culture,” a term Thompson said was vague. But he did express openness to discussing the regulation of violent content in entertainment.
“If it means do we have to look at family situations, if it means we have to look at violent video games — as I said, everything has to be on the table,” he said.
It’s really too early to say exactly how Thompson’s task force will proceed, he said. Asked if he intends to work in conjunction with the White House task force led by Vice President Biden, Thompson said it’s also too early to figure that out. He plans to meet with stakeholders from across the political spectrum and perhaps hold televised hearings to help jump start a new conversation about guns and violence in Congress — and he’s convinced that the body’s recent history of debilitating gridlock will not come into play.
“I don’t think that’s going to be the case here,” Thompson said. “I don’t the communities are going to allow that to happen. I think that the communities are going to generate an interest and the communities are going to demand that something is done.”