Following a somber plea from President Barack Obama to consider changing components of the nation's gun laws, members of Congress from Tennessee expressed a desire to see a decrease in violent crime—but not at the cost of infringing upon the Second Amendment rights of citizens.
The president, along with Vice President Joe Biden, addressed an audience in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, flanked by a handful of schoolchildren. The announcement came 33 days after a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman murdered 20 children, six adults and his own mother before committing suicide.
"To make a real and lasting difference, Congress too must act, and Congress must act soon," Obama said. "And I'm calling on Congress to pass some very specific proposals right away."
Obama's recommendations included a renewing of an expired ban on assault weapons, limiting "high-capacity" ammunition magazines to 10 bullets, and banning the procession and transfer of armor-piercing bullets. The president also called for universal background checks on gun sales and recommended an increase in federal funding to be put toward the hiring of additional police officers, counselors and psychologists in schools.
Costs for the president's proposals amount to an estimated $500 million. The plan represents the most comprehensive effort to tighten American gun laws in two decades, according to an Associated Press report.
Although the president used his executive power to enact a handful of his recommendations, such as requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations, many of his recommendations would require congressional approval. And in the hours following his remarks, Tennessee's members of Congress showed no urgency to begin to act.
In a news release, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann described the Newtown massacre as "heartbreaking" but vowed not to support any bills that would threaten rights for gun owners laid out in the Second Amendment.
"The horrific event in Newtown was heartbreaking, and protecting our children must be at the top of the priority list as a nation," Fleischmann said. "However, I will not support any measure that infringes on our Second Amendment rights."
Rep. Scott DesJarlais offered a similar take, but suggested additionally that Obama was taking advantage of the Newtown tragedy to advance an agenda with a goal of limiting the Second Amendment rights of citizens. The congressman also said he was willing to partner with the president on addressing issues of mental health that related to gun violence.
"While I share President Obama’s goal of reducing gun violence, I fear his administration is using the Newtown tragedy as a way to limit law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment rights," DesJarlais said in an emailed statement. "I will not support any measure that infringes on our constitutional right to bear arms and will use every option available to prevent the president from circumventing Congress through the use of executive orders. I do believe the president is right to focus on addressing mental health issues, and I look forward to working with him to make our mental health care system more efficient and responsive."
Sen. Lamar Alexander said in an emailed statement he would "carefully review" the president's recommendations but also vowed to not support any bills he saw as taking away from the Second Amendment. Alexander also expressed interest in reviewing effects of violent video games on children.
"I will also review the effectiveness of existing gun laws and examine the impact of violent video games that enable individuals, especially children, to practice killing," Alexander said. "I understand the president's proposal includes ideas for reforming our mental health system to keep people who are a danger to themselves and others away from guns. I will review these ideas in greater detail, as ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee."
Sen. Bob Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, said that reviewing and enhancing existing laws "made sense," but he expressed concerns that discrepancies in gun laws were not at the core of violent, gun-related crime.
"Stepping up enforcement of existing laws and improving school safety to better protect our children makes sense, but our greatest challenge may be improving our mental health system and addressing the mentality of those who commit mass killings," Corker said in an emailed statement. "While I will certainly evaluate reasonable legislative proposals that come before the Senate, I am not convinced that the most effective measures for combating violence in our society will come from Washington."
All four of the lawmakers accepted contributions from the National Rifle Association in their most recent bids for re-election. Boasting more than 4 million members, the gun-lobbying organization poured more than $18.6 million into races across the country in the most recent election cycle.