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As Congress approaches gun control vote, California members split

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 2, 2013.
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 2, 2013.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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When the Senate returns from its Easter break next week, one of its first votes is expected to be on a gun violence measure. Some Republican Senators have threatened a filibuster. Any gun control measure that survives the Senate will face stiff opposition in the GOP-led House.

The positions of California lawmakers on gun issues are shaped by political philosophy – but also geography and personal experience.

The Big Bear Shootout

Freshman Republican Congressman Paul Cook represents a rural California district that includes Big Bear, where  ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner ended his shooting rampage. That happened on Feb. 12, just hours before President Obama prodded Congress for new gun control legislation in his State of the Union address. 

Cook says the Dorner incident could well turn his constituents against gun control. He says that’s part of the reason why they’re "very sensitive about having their own personal weapon, that they can defend themselves against somebody that comes in there."

RELATED: Gun control: Where does your U.S. congressman stand? 

The retired Marine Colonel says he wants to “carefully” look at any gun measures. He says requiring background checks for potential gun owners raises the question of who might have access to that information. And he questions whether regulating guns is the answer to preventing future incidents like the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He says our society produces "people like this" and we have to look at ourselves as a culture and examine what we’re doing. "To just look at the mechanism – obviously guns is not enough."

Other California Republicans

That’s the reaction of most California Republicans on the Hill. Some, including Ed Royce of Fullerton and Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach do support background checks. Others mention school safety. Gary Miller of San Bernardino wants to keep guns away from the mentally ill. But most reinterate their support for the Second Amendment.

Freshman GOP Congressman Doug LaMalfa represents the rural district of Redding and is a former official of a local hunting group. LaMalfa calls gun violence legislation “an emotional reaction” to the “horrific tragedy” at Newtown. But he says it all comes down your views on gun control. "If you’re similar to my views," he says, "you don’t think any more legislation is going to change the world at all."

Democrats find a hunter and gun owner

Rural California lawmakers are more likely to be hunters – and more experienced with guns — than those who live in cities. Which is why House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi picked Mike Thompson, who represents Northern California's wine country, to head her Democratic gun violence task force. Thompson says he's been a hunter all his life. He says when you're "out in the field upland hunting or waterfowl hunting" you're only allowed to have three shells in your gun. "Why do you need 30 shells as a magazine?"

Thompson's task force issued a laundry list of recommendations, supported by most California House Democrats. It includes a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, background checks, and restoring research funding for the Centers for Disease Control to track gun violence as a health issue.

Looking for other answers

The recommendations also include improved mental health screening. That’s the gun violence issue Democrat Grace Napolitano of Santa Fe Springs is fighting for. She’s also a task force member. Napolitano says the focus must be in the schools, "even at a grammar school level" where counselors can "begin to spot some of these disorders and be able to talk to the parents and be able to try to solve them at that early age."

But all of these recommendations from Democrats will have to wait. The GOP-led House is waiting to see whether the Senate can pass its own bill before putting a gun violence measure to a vote.