The Californian picked to lead congressional Democrats' efforts on gun control says the positions held by some gun rights advocates are unnecessarily divisive, and that government action should go beyond simply outlawing certain weapons.
"I think assault weapons are a pox on the home of every gun owner," Rep. Mike Thompson said Saturday on CNN. "I think that's the thing that's going to cause the overwhelming majority of people in this country who aren't gun owners to have negative feelings about those of us who are gun owners."
Thompson is a gun owner and hunter himself, as well as a member of and former leader of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus. Before his career in politics, Thompson was a staff sergeant in the Army. When noting his opposition to assault weapons, he recalls, "I carried one in Vietnam."
He is leading the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, the group appointed by fellow Californian and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In her words, the panel will work with President Barack Obama and others to "ban assault weapons and assault magazines."
Obama separately named a group led by Vice President Joe Biden and called for "meaningful action" to prevent future mass shootings.
Supporters of gun control said the December 14 shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 students dead was even more horrific than other recent mass shootings and marked a turning point in the discussion.
They have introduced dozens of gun-related bills in the new Congress, which began on Thursday, including proposals to renew the assault weapons ban which lapsed in 2004 and has not been reinstated since.
Meanwhile some opponents of gun control, including the National Rifle Association, say the Newtown shooting and other incident point to the need for reform in the other direction: putting guns in the hands of security guards, school administrators and teachers who could use weapons to protect their students.
A CNN/ORC poll conducted in mid-December days after the Connecticut shooting found 15% of American supported making all guns illegal, 37% supported major restrictions on guns, 33% supported minor restrictions, and 13% supported no restrictions on guns. Support for a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons stood at 62%. Forty six percent said the government and society could take actions to prevent another mass shooting, and 53% said that was not possible. It had a sampling error of plus or minus four points.
Thompson said all sides should be at the table, "but you're not going to solve this issue by arming every school teacher or every principal."
He has specifically said he favors outlawing assault weapons and large ammunition magazines, strengthening requirements for background checks on gun purchasers, and "making sure appropriate mental health services are available."
Among the members of his panel are freshman Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who now represents the area including Newtown; Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed in a 1993 mass shooting; and Rep. Ron Barber, who was wounded in the 2011 Arizona mass shooting which nearly killed former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Barber was her chief of staff and was elected to the seat after her resignation.
The phrase "gun control," Thompson said, is not comprehensive enough for the discussion.
"A lot of times when you talk about gun control, you turn off more than half of your audience," he said in the interview. Possible solutions can include "everything from the background checks to the assault magazines, the assault weapons, the mental health (system) capacities that we have, our culture of violence that seems to be so overwhelming right now."