WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic lawmakers and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman said Sunday that military-style assault weapons should be banned and that a national commission should be established to examine mass shootings in the United States.
The proposals were among the first to come from Congress in the wake of Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"Assault weapons were developed for the U.S. military, not commercial gun manufacturers," Lieberman said before a vigil Sunday night in Newtown.
"This is a moment to start a very serious national conversation about violence in our society, particularly about these acts of mass violence," said the Connecticut senator, who is retiring next month.
Gun rights activists remained largely quiet on the issue, all but one declining to appear on the Sunday talk shows. Meanwhile, Democrats vowed action and said it was time to hear from voters — not gun lobbyists — on how to prevent the next shooting.
The time for "saying that we can't talk about the policy implications of tragedies like this is over," said Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who won a Senate seat in the November elections.
Speaking Sunday night at a vigil in Newtown, President Barack Obama did not specifically address gun control. But he vowed, "In the coming weeks I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this."
He added: "Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
Obama and Senate Democrats haven't pushed for new gun controls since rising to power in the 2008 national elections. Outspoken advocates for stricter laws, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, say that's because of the powerful sway of the National Rifle Association.
But advocates also say the latest shooting is a tipping point that could change the dynamic of the debate dramatically. Feinstein, D-Calif., said she will propose legislation next year that would ban big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets.
"It can be done," she said Sunday of reviving the 10-year ban that expired in 2004.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Obama could use executive powers to enforce existing gun laws, as well as throw his weight behind legislation like Feinstein's.
"It's time for the president, I think, to stand up and lead and tell this country what we should do — not go to Congress and say, 'What do you guys want to do?'" Bloomberg said.
Lieberman supports such a ban but said there should also be a national commission to scrutinize gun laws and loopholes, as well as the nation's mental health system and the role that violent video games and movies might play in shootings.
"There are a lot of serious questions here about what is the impact of violence in the entertainment culture on everybody," Lieberman said. "There is a vulnerable population out there and I'm afraid this young man was obviously one of them. How do we identify shooters before they shoot and make sure they get the mental health help that they need, and then what about gun control?"
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said he would support such a panel, adding that it was time for a "national discussion" that included school safety.