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Gun talk, not new curbs, wins area reps’ unanimity

Federal lawmakers who represent northeast Indiana say they are willing to discuss ways to guard Americans against mass shootings such as those that claimed 27 lives in Newtown, Conn., on Friday.

But they don’t come close to endorsing restrictions on the sale of semiautomatic rifles and large-capacity ammo clips.

Sen.-elect Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., issued a statement Tuesday that said in part, “All parties must come to the table as we determine the appropriate action to address this extremely concerning problem of senseless violence.”

Donnelly’s statement and a similar comment he made Monday to CNN attracted media attention because he earned an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association for his votes in support of gun rights as a member of the U.S. House since 2007.

The NRA, which claims 4 million members, announced Tuesday afternoon it will conduct a news conference Friday in Washington, D.C.

“The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again,” the group said about the Newtown shootings.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-2nd, also received an “A” from the NRA.

In an email response to questions from The Journal Gazette, Stutzman said, “I look forward to a fact-based discussion during the next session of Congress on ways to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.”

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said in a statement, “Certainly, as a country, we need to have a meaningful discussion on the role of violence in our society and how we deal with mental illness.”

Coats received a “C+” from the NRA. In 1993, he voted in favor of the original bill that would prohibit the sale of assault rifles for 10 years.

Despite the vagueness of the lawmakers’ statements, “getting to the table is the first step,” former three-term Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke said Tuesday. Helmke led the Brady Campaign and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence from mid-2006 to mid-2011.

“If they are serious about wanting to have a discussion about (gun violence), that is positive news,” Helmke said. “In the past, it’s been almost impossible to get anybody to say anything about the issue.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has pledged to introduce a bill to reinstate the ban on certain semiautomatic rifles that expired in 2004. Other gun-control advocates in Congress include Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Democratic Reps. Carolyn McCarthy and Charles Schumer, both of New York.

Those five lawmakers “have been pushing proposals for years,” Helmke said. “Somebody new needs to speak up. You need some Republicans to speak up, and you need some of the Dems like Donnelly, that the NRA has liked, to do it.”

Next month, Donnelly will replace six-term Sen. Richard Lugar, who lost to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in Indiana’s Republican primary election. Lugar got an “F” and Mourdock an “A” from the NRA this year.

In recent days, other pro-gun Democrats – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia – have indicated they are open to proposals for stemming gun violence.

Although no longer with the Brady Campaign, Helmke said he will keep pressing for firearms regulations.

“This is an issue I came to as mayor” from 1988 through 1999, he said. “Gun violence was affecting Fort Wayne, and I wanted to help fight it.”

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