WASHINGTON – Members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation offered little support Wednesday for new gun restrictions that President Obama is seeking in the wake of the Newtown school massacre.
The cool response illustrates the difficult path that gun control advocates have in moving any legislation through Congress.
The effort will likely begin in the Senate and could die there without support from southern Democrats like U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who is up for re-election in 2014.
In a statement Wednesday, Pryor essentially dismissed Obama’s call for legislation to ban assault weapons, limit ammunition clips to 10 rounds or less and broaden background checks for gun purchases.
"While I appreciate the president’s efforts to keep Americans safe, I believe the place to start is to enforce the laws on the books," Pryor said.
Pryor said he would look for "areas of common ground," including funding for law enforcement in schools, implementing tracking systems for the mentally ill and criminals, and addressing violence in the media.
"Most importantly, I will be talking with my constituents in Arkansas as I vote on these issues in the future," Pryor said.
Obama announced Wednesday that he would introduce legislation by next week on those initiatives as part of a larger effort to curb gun violence following the Connecticut shooting last month that claimed the lives of 20 elementary school children and six teachers.
"If America worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one that occurred in Newtown," Obama said. "That’s what these reforms are designed to do. They’re common-sense measures."
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., disagreed with the need for further gun restrictions.
"I don’t think that really solves the problem," Boozman said in a telephone interview. "The gun is the tool but not the cause."
Boozman said he favors enforcing current gun laws and looking at what can be done to strengthen mental health issues.
U.S. Reps. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, issued statements Wednesday reflecting similar concerns.
"Unfortunately, not a single thing proposed by the president today would have saved a single child’s life at Sandy Hook," Cotton said. "Instead, the president would curtail law-abiding citizens’ constitutional rights with extreme gun-control measures that have proven time and again not to reduce crime in general or mass murder in particular."
"Limiting Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens is not the appropriate reaction to senseless acts of violence," Womack said.
"I will not support laws that would infringe on law-abiding citizens’ constitutional right to own a firearm. The Second Amendment guarantees this right and protects it against infringement," Crawford said.
Griffin said it is counterproductive to focus on gun restrictions as an answer to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The effort should instead be on addressing the treatment of mental illness and dealing with the culture of violence that exists in the country.
"I am interested in solutions to curb the violence that plagues America, but I’m not interested in feel-good legislation that leaves our children no safer and Americans less free," Griffin said.
In a telephone interview, Griffin expanded on his statement saying that restricting guns based on appearance is flawed. He noted that shotguns, which would not be restricted, are typically more powerful than military-style AR-15s.
Griffin said he was willing to look at initiatives that could help enforce current laws to keep guns out of the hands of felons and others already prohibited from owning weapons.
"It’s something I would take a look at," Griffin said.