Maryland's senior lawmaker, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, said Monday the National Rifle Association must come to the table to discuss the tighter gun controls, as she works with President Barack Obama and her colleagues in Congress in the wake of the deadly Connecticut school shooting.
Mikulski joined Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori in sounding off about the mass shooting that killed 20 children and six educators last week. Their comments came at a dedication for the AmeriCorps Atlantic Region Campus.
"It's a terrible event, but it should only be an event. Violence should not a pattern for the United States of America," Mikulski said. "The protection of our children should be foremost in our mind.
"We do need the mental health experts and you know what, we need the NRA, too. We need them to come to the table to say, 'We are one America, indivisible, under God with liberty — yes, the constitution and the Second Amendment – and justice for all.' When you walk the streets you should be safe and when children go to school, they should have a home away from home."
Mikulski said her approach will be two-fold. She intends to collaborate with mental health professionals to work toward eliminating violence while aiming to put new controls over access to military-style weapons.
The senator said she will work with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who announced plans to introduce legislation in the next session of Congress to enhance gun control.
The NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Rawlings-Blake said the first priority locally is to build consensus for new laws, especially those that would address access to assault weapons. The mayor said her efforts to push for gun controls in Annapolis have fallen short of her goals for lack of support.
"I've tried. I've advocated for stronger gun laws in Annapolis for years — and had extreme difficulty getting some members of the legislature to understand why it was so important to have strong gun laws," she said. "… The priority is getting the interests on both sides to be willing to have a conversation to create a safer city, a safer state and a safer country."
Rawlings-Blake said she was inspired by the president's address Sunday from Newtown, Conn. She said she hopes the shooting spurs the country to address the "realities" of violence in America. Addressing gun violence and the needs of the mentally ill is a must, the mayor said.
"All I know is, I feel the same way as the president [does]," she said. "We cannot look ourselves in the mirror and think we've done all we can do."
The mayor has petitioned lawmakers to increase penalties for illegal loaded handgun possession and felony gun offenders, among other measures. In 2011 she found success when Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law new sentencing guidelines for felons who are caught with firearms.
Archbishop Lori spoke about the tragedy from a more personal perspective. He served as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., a diocese that includes Newtown, from 2001 until earlier this year.
"With the entire nation, we are mourning, but for me it has struck in a very deep and very personal way," Lori said. "… The whole community is traumatized but the parents who lost children are undergoing a grief like no other grief.
"This episode should not only draw us closer together in the spirit of prayer and concern but also make us determined to overcome a culture of violence. All of us together have this important responsibility to create what we might call a civilization of faith and of love."