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Va. Sen. Warner Changes Stance on Assault Weapons

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Mark Warner (Credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Mark Warner (Credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

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RICHMOND, Va. — Sen. Mark R. Warner, among the few Senate Democrats to hold favor with the National Rifle Association, said Monday that the Connecticut elementary school massacre has reversed his stand on assault weapons.

Warner endorsed President Barack Obama’s support for restricting rapid-fire rifles like those a gunman used in the massacre of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“The status quo is not acceptable anymore,” the centrist former Virginia governor said in interviews Monday at the state Capitol, recalling the horror his three daughters expressed Friday at the second-worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Its death toll is surpassed only by 2007 slayings of 32 people at Virginia Tech.

“There needs to be appropriate restrictions on these tools of mass-killing,” Warner said, calling for tighter screening of gun buyers and stricter access to powerful, combat-style firearms capable of dispensing numerous shots in a short time.

He said he had not considered details of such legislation, but said he hopes to find moderate Republicans to help him advance pragmatic reforms that don’t punish those who own firearms for hunting and self-defense.

“I hope this won’t just be a flash point and then it will just recede into the quagmire in Washington,” he said.

Warner presided over one of the most chilling murder sprees in history as governor 10 years ago when snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 at the time, used a combat-style rifle to lie in ambush and kill 10 people, terrorizing the Washington area and surrounding region.

In his victorious 2001 gubernatorial campaign, Warner spoke out for gun rights and found support from sportsmen in rural areas. That kept the National Rifle Association on the sidelines and allowed Warner to win votes normally denied Democrats. As governor, he never vetoed pro-gun legislation.

Asked if he was concerned about clashing with the NRA as he looks toward a re-election bid in 2014, Warner said, “I hope the NRA will be a part of this conversation.”

There was no immediate comment from officials at the organization’s Fairfax, Va., headquarters.

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(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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