Top Democrats and other gun control advocates are advancing measures to regulate and restrict the sale of guns after the haunting slaughter at the Sandy Hook Elementary school last week that took the lives of 20 children and six adults.
Tears, tributes and memorial services are not enough to honor the lives lost in a deadly rampage, say New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and other prominent gun control advocates calling for the renewal of a ban on automatic weapons like the .223 caliber Bushmaster, a military-style semiautomatic rifle, that was used in the massacre.
President Obama strongly hinted he would push for legislative action during his address at a memorial service in Newtown Sunday night. “No single law, no set of laws, can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” he said. “But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.”
Mayor Bloomberg urged Obama to make cracking down on guns his “number one” agenda item after the Connecticut shootings – the fourth mass shooting in the country since he became president four years ago. "What the president can do is number one: Through executive action he can order his agencies to enforce the laws more aggressively," Bloomberg said on "Meet the Press." "I think there’s something like 77,000 people who have been accused of lying when they applied for a gun permit. We’ve only prosecuted 77 of them."
The White House is considering a number of options, although the scope and details of the president’s approach is far from clear. One possibility likely to be considered is a ban on high capacity magazines, the devices attached to firearms that store large numbers of bullets and reload them rapidly, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A 1994 ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 included a ban on ammunition clips that held more than 10 rounds. Recent shootings, including the one carried out in Newtown, Connecticut by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, involved firearms with the capacity to fire hundreds of rounds before reloading.
Assault weapons or semi-automatics primarily refer to firearms that possess the cosmetic features of a fully automatic assault rifle. Semi-automatic firearms, when fired, automatically extract the spent cartridge casing and load the next cartridge into the chamber, ready to fire again. They do not fire automatically like a machine gun – but are just as lethal.
Lanza used a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle to kill all his victims before turning a weapon on himself. He was also carrying two 9mm semiautomatic handguns, including a Glock, which is highly popular with police officers and members of the military.
The 10-year ban on assault weapons was passed by Congress on September 13, 1994, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment – which meant that hundreds of thousands of these weapons would remain in circulation. The law expired shortly before Obama won his first term, and since then no bill to reauthorize the measure has reached the floor of the House or Senate.
Previous mass murders, such as the killings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., earlier this year, have briefly rekindled a national debate on gun control, but with no lasting effect. Apart from a renewal of the ban on automatic weapons and large ammunition magazines, gun control advocates also have called for closing a loophole that prevents background checks of many people purchasing weapons at gun shows or on the Internet.
To date, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has prevented nearly 1.8 million criminals and other prohibited purchasers from buying guns. The law also has a deterrent effect: Prohibited purchasers are less likely to try to buy guns when they know comprehensive background check requirements are in place.
But the current federal law requires criminal background checks only for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers, which account for just 60 percent of all gun sales in the U.S., according to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. A loophole in the law allows individuals not “engaged in the business” of selling firearms to sell guns without a license — and without processing any paperwork. That means that two out of every five guns sold in the United States change hands without a background check.
Over the years, public sentiment has shifted away from the need for stricter gun laws, as gun enthusiasts and Second Amendment advocates including the National Rifle Association fought hard to discourage any movement towards tougher gun laws.
In April, the Pew Research Center found the publicly largely divided on this topic, with 45 percent saying it was more important to control gun ownership and 49 percent saying the priority should be on protecting gun owners’ rights. A subsequent poll in late July, taken less than a week after the mass killing in the Colorado theater, showed 47 percent of the people putting a priority on gun control, while 46 percent saying the right to gun ownership should come first, The Washington Post noted today.
Senator Feinstein already has a bill ready to go that, she announced on "Meet the Press," would " ban the sale, the transfer, the importation, and the possession," on assault weapons going forward "and it will ban the same for big clips, drums, or strips of more than ten bullets."
Feinstein understands gun violence firsthand, having become mayor of San Francisco after a 1978 shooting by a rejected candidate for that city's Board of Supervisors who killed then-Mayor George Moscone and gay rights champion Harvey Milk. After the incident, Feinstein passed a measure banning handguns in San Francisco and had her own pistol melted down and sculpted into a cross that was given as a gift to Pope John Paul II, according to the 2001 book, Nine and Counting: The Women of the Senate.
But navigating that bill through the House still looks tricky, even as some Republicans have come out in support of greater restrictions. Pro-gun lawmakers have mostly stayed quiet as the nation sorts through the tragedy, yet many GOP voters still sympathize with the view that the Connecticut elementary school would have been safer if the principal had been packing heat, a belief articulated on "Fox News Sunday" by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
“I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out," Gohmert said, "and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids."