Click photo to enlarge
Dan Coyro/Sentinel Rep. Sam Farr

SANTA CRUZ -- On the day of last week's tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., Rep. Sam Farr wasted no time in calling for stricter gun control laws. Citing the youth of the victims -- 20 were 6 or 7 years old -- the Carmel Democrat said it was time for "real and frank" discussion of guns in American society, a clamor that grew over the last week. On Wednesday, President Obama formed a task force to look at gun violence in America.

Q Where were you when you heard about the Newtown shooting, and what was your reaction?

A I was working here in Washington when I first learned of the shooting. As the news began to report all of the facts and we learned the young age of those shot, I like everyone else, felt an immense sadness that we had lost the lives of so many children.

Q There is a lot of ongoing discussion in the wake of Sandy Hook about tightening gun laws, but there is after every mass shooting, including Tucson and Aurora. Is something different this time?

A The big difference is the age of the victims. It is our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable and as a society we failed the children of Newtown. It served as a real wake-up call for the need to readdress our approach to gun control in this country.

Q Have you seen a shift in viewpoint in Washington among your colleagues on Capitol Hill, since the shooting?

A There has been a shift in view on Capitol Hill. Members who supported reasonable gun control measures have remade them a top priority. We have also seen a shift in the views of those who previously opposed gun control. This no longer is a right or left issue; it has become a common-sense issue.

Q What kind of new gun laws would you support?

A We need to return to the sensible measure of the 1994 assault weapons ban, which would control access to the most dangerous weapons and limit the size of clips. We also need to look at stricter enforcement of our gun control laws and close all loopholes -- starting with the gun-show loophole.

Q You have been a longtime proponent of stricter gun control. In times such as these, critics say that going after the instrument of terror -- the weapons themselves -- doesn't address root problems with the individuals who carry out these acts, and wouldn't prevent future attacks. What's your counter-argument?

A We need to do both. We absolutely must find ways to identify the type of individuals that would commit these crimes. That includes improving access to mental health treatment and ending the stigma that surrounds it. However at the end of the day, easy access to dangerous guns, like the assault rifle used in Newtown, are why these attacks have been so deadly. A mentally ill person without guns is far less dangerous that one with a gun.

Q The Second Amendment says the right to bear arms "shall not" be infringed, and the Supreme Court recently found individuals have the right to gun ownership. How do you get around those limitations in crafting legislation?

A We have limits to all of our rights. You cannot yell fire in a crowded theater. We are not trying to remove every gun from society. Instead, we want to limit access to weapons that serve no purpose other than to increase death totals. The Second Amendment has historically allowed for reasonable gun control measures, like the 1994 ban that expired under President George W. Bush. That is the type of measure this country needs.

Q When President Obama came into office, there was a lot of fear that he was going to take people's guns away from them. In some areas, gun purchases rose sharply before his first term. Do you think he is ready and willing to take the lead on this issue, and does he have to?

A Those fears are unfounded because the president has never proposed ending gun ownership all together. After yet another tragedy, it is the American people that are taking the lead on this issue. They are the ones demanding that Washington finally address the problem. The president and Congress will work together to pass reasonable gu n control measures because that is what the public wants.

Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin at Twitter.com/scnewsdude