HARTFORD – Connecticut's top elected officials said the slaughter of at least 50 people by a gunman at a Florida nightclub provides disturbing new evidence for Congress to enact more stringent gun control measures.
"Congress has become complicit in these murders by its total, unconscionable deafening silence," Sen. Chris Murphy said Sunday. "This doesn't have to happen, but this epidemic will continue without end if Congress continues to sit on its hand and do nothing — again."
"Congress' heartless, intentional silence has become a quiet message of endorsement to would-be shooters contemplating mass murder," he said later in a tweet.
Sunday's attack in Florida is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, ahead of attacks at Virginia Tech in 2007 where 32 people died and the Sandy Hook shootings, where 28 people were killed, including the gunman, who shot himself.
"There should be a full investigation," Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. "But also action to protect America from the epidemic of gun violence."
Blumenthal said the specter or 50 deaths and more than 50 wounded "could completely change the dynamic" in Congress for action on guns.
"It could provide impetus and momentum to break through the gridlock,'' Blumenthal said. "We said that with Sandy Hook and Charleston and many other tragedies. But there has to be a tipping point."
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, said the problem is that too many dangerous people can still purchase a gun. The suspect in Sunday's attack, Omar Mateen, legally bought a long gun and a pistol in recent weeks, according to federal investigators.
"Even if [the gunman] had been placed on the terrorist watch list he would have still been allowed to buy a gun. That is pretty outrageous," she said. "I hope that point will be hammered home this week."
Rob Cox, a founder of Sandy Hook Promise, a group established by family members of some children and educators who were killed in Newtown, said he reacted with horror at the Orlando shootings because Sandy Hook is now no longer the "high-water mark of mass shootings in America."
"This has to be the moment where something shifts and a response in every fashion changes the trajectory," he said. "We've effectively doubled the ante."
But Scott Wilson Sr., president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which advocates for gun owners, said limiting legal gun ownership does not deter criminals.
"Once again our representatives ignore that people who are bent on murder and destruction will do so," he said. "The crazy will always find a way."
Mike Bazinet, the spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said the Newtown-based trade group for the firearms and ammunition industry will not give media interviews until more is known about the attack on the nightclub.
"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of the horrific terrorist attack on the nightclub in Orlando," he said.
A lawyer representing several Sandy Hook families in their lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor and seller of the AR-15 used by Lanza in the 2012 Newtown massacre, said the gun used in Orlando appears to be a similar firearm.
"This morning's massacre of innocent civilians in Orlando is more horrific evidence of the unique lethality of the AR-15. It is no wonder that this weapon was chosen by today's shooter, as it has been by so many before him and as it undoubtedly will be again. It was designed for the United States military to do enemies of war exactly what it did this morning: kill mass numbers of people with maximum efficiency and ease,'' Josh Koskoff said.
Cox said a good first start would be legislation that limits the number of bullets fired by assault weapons. He praised Connecticut's bipartisan law enacted in 2013 that imposed a 10-round limit on the size of ammunition magazines.
"It was a very good, common sense response," he said.
The law also tightened the definition of an assault weapon and banned the semiautomatic Bushmaster AR-15 rifle and the kind of large-capacity ammunition magazines used in the Sandy Hook massacre.
The assault weapons ban applies to semiautomatic firearms with certain military-style features and outlaws nearly 200 weapons listed by make and model and copies or duplicates of those guns.
President Barack Obama spoke at the University of Hartford in April 2013 urging federal gun legislation, but the Democratic-controlled Senate failed to approve a measure calling for expanded background checks in gun purchases. It fell short of 60 votes needed to overturn a Republican filibuster.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, cited Sandy Hook and other acts of gun violence in her call Sunday for congressional action. She cited the killing of 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., in 2012, and in San Bernardino, Calif., in December 2015 in which 14 people were killed in a terrorist attack.
"From Newtown and Aurora, to San Bernardino and now Orlando, gun violence is tearing apart American communities," she said. "Congress must take immediate, common sense action to help save lives, which includes banning high-capacity magazines and allowing federal funding for gun violence research.'
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said Congress should vote on universal background checks.
"We owe that to the public,' he said. "Whether you agree or disagree that all gun purchases should require a background check, it is our responsibility to vote. It is past time for Congress to take its head out of the sand."