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Two eastern states join call for tighter gun control

By Medina Roshan

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (Reuters) - Maryland and Delaware have joined the push for a ban in the United States on assault weapons and some types of ammunition magazines after last month's Connecticut school massacre.

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden joined leaders of the mid-Atlantic state on Monday in announcing new gun measures while his father, Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, was preparing national gun control proposals.

The announcements from the two states exposed a widening divide over gun control between states with Democratic majorities and large urban areas, particularly along the east coast, and more rural states, many of which are represented by Republicans.

"Military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips designed for battle have no place on our streets," said Beau Biden, echoing comments made by his father since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in a school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14.

The Delaware proposals are due to be introduced in the legislature in the next two weeks.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who is often discussed as a possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, said on Monday that he would propose later this week a tighter ban on assault weapons and on certain types of ammunition magazines.

"Perhaps there is no way to completely prevent the next Newtown tragedy," he said. "But then again, perhaps there is."

O'Malley said he also would call for the licensing of handguns in the state.

Gun control has been at the center of U.S. politics, once again, since the December 14 massacre in Newtown.

The gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, used a military-style AR-15 rifle that he had taken from his mother's home. He shot and killed himself after the rampage inside the school. This type of gun was not covered by Connecticut's existing assault weapons ban.

Before the December shooting only California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Maryland, plus the District of Columbia, had some form of ban on assault weapons.

Since the shooting the governors of Connecticut, New York and now Maryland have announced that they will try to tighten those controls. Delaware would become the eighth state to ban assault weapons if the proposed law is passed.

Some big city mayors, led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have joined the drive for tougher gun control.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Monday that he had ordered a review of pension and retirement funds for city employees as a first step toward divesting stock of companies that make or sell assault weapons.

The second largest U.S. pension fund, the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS), decided last week to sell its investments in manufacturers of firearms that are banned in California, like the assault rifle used in Newtown.

Calls for action in states near Connecticut, as well as California and some big cities, contrast with the muted response in other parts of the country.

Many states have either been silent on gun control or are focusing on security at schools and mental health initiatives in response to the Connecticut shooting.

In Mississippi, for example, Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves has proposed creating a fund to help schools hire certified law enforcement officers as guards. He also wants Mississippi courts to report cases of mental illness to the Federal Bureau of Investigation so that people with a history of mental illness can be prevented from purchasing guns.

(Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Jim Christie in San Francisco; Writing by Greg McCune)

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