CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Two of West Virginia's most powerful pro-gun politicians say they are now open to either banning or tightening restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity gun clips following Friday's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, both Democrats who have earned "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association, said Monday they now favor increased restrictions on high-capacity guns.
Manchin's change ignited the political world Monday, a day after President Barack Obama made a wrenching national speech to suggest he would back new gun controls.
Liberals latched onto Manchin's statements, which he made first in an early-morning TV interview and then again and again throughout the day Monday in interviews, a statement and a conference call with reporters.
In doing so, Manchin became the first NRA-backed senator to call for a reassessment of gun laws.
Republicans called Manchin nothing more than a political opportunist.
Manchin - an avid hunter - said the bloody school shooting led him to reexamine his position.
The shooting left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Police say the gunman, Adam Lanza, was carrying an arsenal of ammunition and used a high-powered AR-15 style rifle similar to the military's M-16.
"I never thought I'd ever be talking to you all about the day 20 6- and 7-year-olds were slaughtered," Manchin, D-W.Va., said during a press conference call Monday afternoon.
"It's changed me - it's changed all of us," he said.
Manchin now says he would like to see a "responsible, sensible" national debate about the future of gun policy and about how the country deals with mental health issues and violence in the media.
He said he still believes in honoring traditional Second Amendment values but lawmakers should not be afraid to consider a nationwide assault weapons ban or limits on how many bullets a gun can fire before being reloaded.
"Everything should be on the table," Manchin said.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who also hold NRA A ratings, said they were trying to figure out the best way for the nation to prevent a repeat of the Newtown, Conn., shootings.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who supported the 10-year assault weapons ban enacted in 1994, said Monday it was time to bring back the rule.
Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also said the nation needs to improve access to mental health services and implement better oversight of violent media geared toward children.
The mass shooting of innocent children has sparked an emotional public debate on the nation's gun laws.
While most of the response would come on the federal level, states also have power to regulate firearms beyond.
Tomblin said in a statement that lawmakers are not facing an issue of gun rights, but rather an issue of public safety.
"As an outdoorsman, I have always supported rights for our hunters and have a long history of enforcing our laws that give us the freedom to protect ourselves and to bear arms," Tomblin said.
"These core principles, however, should not prevent us from debating and putting reasonable restrictions on assault weapons and magazines capable of carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition."
But it's not clear what the governor was calling for or if he planned to do anything to advance legislation at the state level.
For instance, Tomblin's call for restrictions on "magazines capable of carrying hundreds of rounds" may not mean very much. A large-capacity "drum magazine" that could hold up to 100 bullets was used by the shooter in this year's Colorado movie theater shooting, authorities said. But 30 and 33-round magazines were used in Friday's school shooting and at the mass shooting in 2011 that left former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords grievously wounded, according to authorities.
Asked to clarify Tomblin's statement, a spokeswoman did not respond.
From 1994 to 2004, the U.S. did ban gun magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. Gun control advocates have pushed for reinstating those restrictions.
Manchin did not say if he agreed with that, but he said he was willing to consider them even if it might cost him favor among West Virginia's traditional pro-gun electorate.