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WASHINGTON – Several Democrats who have favored gun rights in the past, from Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo to a West Virginia senator noted for a campaign ad where he shot holes through climate change legislation, on Monday showed a new willingness to consider gun control in the wake of last week’s slaughter of 20 Connecticut schoolchildren and six adults.

“We are allowing the manufacture of guns that are designed to do one thing, and that’s to kill people more quickly, more powerfully and in greater numbers,” Higgins said in an interview. “So absolutely, this stuff needs to be part of a mature national discussion of a response to this, which may include a ban on assault weapons.”

Meanwhile, many Republicans – such as Rep.-elect Chris Collins of Clarence – responded with silence, while others, such as Rep. Tom Reed of Corning, stood steadfast in support of the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms.

“I believe the Second Amendment is an individual, fundamental right,” Reed said. “It’s a freedom we enjoy in America, and once you go down this path of limiting those freedoms, I’m very concerned about where that will take us.”

In contrast, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who used to say she and her husband kept two rifles under their bed for self-protection, pointed to a phrase in the Second Amendment as an argument for gun control.

In an opinion piece in the New York Daily News, she noted that the Second Amendment mentions “a well-regulated militia.”

“The words ‘well-regulated’ prove the Founding Fathers themselves understood the need to have reasonable limits,” wrote Gillibrand, suggesting a bill to limit gun trafficking.

Gillibrand turned toward gun control several years ago after joining the Senate, but other longtime allies of the National Rifle Association made the turn more sharply Monday.

Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who shot up a global warming bill in a campaign ad, said “everything needs to be on the table” in the coming gun control debate.

“I don’t know anybody in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle,” Manchin told MSNBC. “I don’t know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about.”

And Rep. John Yarmuth, a moderate Democrat from Kentucky, now said he backs additional gun control legislation.

“I believe it is more rational to fear guns far more than the illusory political power of the NRA,” he said.

Higgins, who didn’t get the NRA endorsement yet nonetheless received $1,000 from the NRA Victory Fund in his most recent re-election campaign, said: “Gun control is obviously one thing that needs a very rigorous debate, and we shouldn’t be afraid to debate it.”

New gun legislation alone won’t be enough, though, added Higgins, saying that improved mental health services, additional security and more support for families should be looked at as well.

In contrast to Higgins, outgoing Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, took a more cautious approach, refusing to be drawn into specifics on the issue.

“We need to have a dialogue with everyone around the table,” she said. “We need to protect the rights of legitimate gun owners, but we need to find a way that this never happens again.”

Defeated in her November bid for re-election by Collins, Hochul was endorsed by the National Rifle Association and took $6,950 from the NRA Political Victory Fund while emphasizing her support of gun rights throughout the campaign.

For his part, Collins was even less willing to discuss the topic Monday.

“We posted a statement on Chris’ Facebook page expressing his sympathies on Friday afternoon, and for the time being, that will be the extent of his comments,” Collins’ spokesman, Grant Loomis, said.

Likewise, pro-gun U.S. senators laid low. NBC said all 31 of them refused to appear on “Meet the Press” this week.

But Reed, on a conference call with reporters, was more than willing to defend gun rights.

“What I’d rather do is focus on the problem, and that’s these lunatics that are out there and not getting the help they need or us in society not getting the protection from these individuals that we deserve,” said Reed, who took $2,000 from the NRA in his last campaign.

Thanks to such strong Republican opposition, the odds against further gun control measures appear to be high.

Nevertheless, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he favors a three-pronged approach to gun control.

“One is to ban assault weapons, to try and reinstate the assault weapons ban,” said Schumer, author of the original assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

“The second is to limit the size of clips to maybe no more than 10 bullets per clip. And the third would be to make it harder for mentally unstable people to get guns.”

Parts of Schumer’s approach appear to be in line with what the country wants. A majority of Americans support stricter gun control laws, including a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, according to a poll released Monday.

The ABC News/Washington Post survey showed 54 percent of respondents backing new limits on gun rights, with 43 percent opposed.

When asked about banning ammunition clips that contain more than 10 bullets, 59 percent supported the idea, while 38 percent opposed it.

In addition, 52 percent backed a ban on semiautomatic handguns, with 44 percent in opposition.

The survey of 602 adults was conducted Friday through Sunday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Higgins agreed that tougher measures are needed in the wake of the Connecticut shootings, saying: “The Founding Fathers, in establishing the Second Amendment some 221 years ago, never could have anticipated this kind of hell.”

News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report. email: jzremski@buffnews.com