WASHINGTON — Recent shootings in Littleton, Colo., Los Angeles, Atlanta and Anaheim were far away. But this time, eight people had been shot to death at a Fort Worth church in the backyard of Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican firmly opposed to gun control.
But unlike congressmen from Colorado and Georgia who softened their stands against gun control after school shootings in their states, Barton remained steadfast Thursday.
"I'm certainly upset that this happened in my district," he said in an interview. "But we had a man who went crazy, and that could happen anywhere."
Barton, 50, is among a strong-willed core of GOP lawmakers who will help determine what gun controls, if any, are passed by Congress this year.
The Senate in May approved an anti-crime measure that includes background checks for all buyers of firearms at gun shows, mandatory childproof trigger locks and a ban on importing high-capacity ammunition clips. But the House version of the bill, approved in June, did not include gun control provisions. Instead, it would increase penalties for offenses of existing weapon laws, study media violence and allow the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. That leaves it up to House-Senate negotiators to try to hammer out a compromise.
The latest outbreak of violence prompted Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Thursday to list on the Senate floor this year's spate of high-profile shootings, including one at an Anaheim hospital earlier this week and the attack on a Jewish community center in Granada Hills last month.
"We have got to do something," Boxer said. "What are we waiting for?"
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the conference committee that will reconcile the two versions of the anti-crime bill, said the panel hopes to meet next week and send a compromise to both houses this month.
Barton, who was back in his district Thursday, said that he hasn't heard anything from constituents that would change his opposition to the gun control proposals.
He recently had posted a column on his Web site that read in part: "More and more frequently, we are confronted with daily news of tragic shootings occurring all over the country. These disturbing events are happening everywhere. . . . Faith, family and personal accountability are the answers," not gun control.
In the interview, Barton said: "The problem is identifying the people who are going to misuse [guns]. There's no easy way to identify that small minority."
His reaction to the Fort Worth shooting was far different from that of Rep. Tom Tancredo of Littleton, Colo., a fellow Republican elected with support from the National Rifle Assn. Tancredo infuriated some supporters by voting for a gun control measure during debate on the House anti-crime bill.
Explaining his vote Thursday, Tancredo said: "It was a reaction to the pain I know my neighbors felt [after April's Columbine High School shootings that left 15 dead in Littleton] and that I felt."
He said that "I have caught more flak on this issue than anything" else in his 25-year political career.
Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) also softened his opposition to gun control after a high school sophomore wounded six students in Conyers, Ga., in May, less than 10 miles from where he was raised.