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Signs in D.C. of a shift toward gun curbs

WASHINGTON -- Prominent gun-rights advocates in Congress are now calling for a national discussion about restrictions to curb gun violence, signaling that the horrific shooting at a Connecticut elementary school could be a tipping point in a debate that has been dormant for years.

"Everything should be on the table," West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said yesterday. He is a conservative Democrat, avid hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association.

White House officials said President Barack Obama would make preventing gun violence a second-term policy priority. But it was unclear what Obama would pursue or how, and aides said stricter gun laws would be only part of any effort.

The president met yesterday with Vice President Joe Biden and a handful of Cabinet members to begin discussing ways the country should respond to the Newtown shootings.

The president has vowed to use "whatever power this office holds" to safeguard the nation's children against gun violence, suggesting he may put political muscle behind an assault weapons ban. He has long supported reinstating the ban, which expired in 2004, but never pressed for it in his first term.

Virginia's Mark Warner, one of the few Senate Democrats who has found favor with gun rights groups, reversed course to back restrictions on assault weapons. "The status quo is not acceptable anymore," he said.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for conversations "to break the gridlock" on guns, saying that those for gun control must acknowledge guns are a way of life and the Second Amendment is part of the Constitution, while pro-gun advocates must acknowledge no amendment to the Constitution is absolute.

"I believe that you can be both pro-gun and pro-gun safety, just like you can be in favor of free speech but also against child pornography," Schumer said.

Since the shootings, the National Rifle Association has been silent. Requests for comments have gone unanswered, and officials are turning down interview requests until they have more details. Their 1.7 million-strong Facebook group has disappeared, and the group's Twitter account has not sent a message since before the grim reality of Friday's shootings set in.

With Tom Brune

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