A pro-gun U.S. lawmaker on Monday called on Congress and the gun industry to come together on a "sensible, reasonable approach" to curbing high-powered, assault weapons like those used in the Connecticut school shooting last week.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has earned top marks from the gun industry, said all ideas should be open for discussion after the violence on Friday that killed 20 children aged 6 a nd 7.
Manchin, a hunter and member of the National Rifle Association, said the availability of such high-powered weapons does not make sense and called on the gun lobby group to cooperate with a reform of the nation's gun laws.
The NRA has been an influential force against limiting gun sales and has succeeded in loosening restrictions on some high-powered combat weapons originally intended for military use.
"We've got to sit down. I ask all my friends at NRA -- and I'm a proud NRA member and always have been -- we need to sit down and move this dialogue to a sensible, reasonable approach to fixing it," he told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.
Addressing the nation's gun laws are just part of a larger cultural problem in the United States, Manchin acknowledged. "But everything needs to be on the table, and I think it will be," he said.
Manchin's comments come as residents in Newtown, Connecticut, prepared on Monday for the first two of 20 funerals of children massacred in their classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. Six adults were also killed.
The rampage is the latest in a string of mass shootings nationwide this year. But its direct target of such young children has shaken even some conservatives who in the past have been staunch gun supporters.
"Every American must know from this day forward nothing can ever be the same again," said the MSNBC show's host, former lawmaker Joe Scarborough, adding later that even Republicans like him must take another look at gun laws.
"Politicians can no longer denfend the status quo. They must instead be forced to defend our children," Scarborough, an NRA supporter, said in an emotional program that also questioned the role of video games and movies as well as mental illness.
Friday's shooter, Adam Lanza, was armed with hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines of about 30 rounds each for the Bushmaster AR 15 rifle and two handguns he carried into the school. He had a fourth weapon, a shotgun, in his car outside.
"Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered. This never happened in America, that I can recall, ever seeing this kind of carnage," said Manchin, who has earned the NRA's top 'A' rating on gun issues. "This has changed where we go from here."
Representatives for the National Rifle Association did not immediately return a request for comment. The lobby group has no statement on the school shooting on its website.
On Sunday, Senator Dianne Feinstein said she would introduce legislation this week to ban assault weapons. The Democratic lawmaker authored the previous ban that lapsed in 2004.
U.S. President Barack Obama also on Sunday called for Americans to change its approach to violence but did not use the word "gun."
Advocates of gun rights say Connecticut already has among the strictest gun laws in the nation.
But in Newtown, which is also home to another gun industry group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the shooting has touched off fierce questions about gun limits.
Manchin said hunters don't need weapons with massive reload power and that there needs to be "a common sense discussion" about reasonable gun use. "It should move beyond dialogue. We need action," he said.
He acknowledged that Congress is currently focused on resolving the so-called fiscal cliff until the end of the year but signaled movement on the gun issue after that, a sentiment echoed by other lawmakers.
"There's an opportunity now to seize this moment and do something reasonable," said Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal also told MSNBC. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.