Charleston Massacre May Rekindle Gun Control Debate
Policy + Politics

Charleston Massacre May Rekindle Gun Control Debate


It’s unlikely that the young white supremacist, would have been prevented from acquiring the .45 caliber gun he used to kill nine African Americans in Charleston, S.C. last week if Congress had approved tougher background checks and other restrictions in April 2013 – the last time Congress seriously debated gun control.

His father bought the gun for his troubled son to celebrate his 21st birthday in April, according to media reports.

Related: Charleston Shooting Makes Confederate Flag a GOP Issue   

With the nation struggling once again to come to grips with another gun-related massacre of innocent Americans, the Republican and Democratic co-sponsors of these modest gun reforms signaled Tuesday that they may try again this year.

After 20 students and six adults were killed by a gunman at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut three years ago, Toomey and Manchin told a reporter for The Washington Post that they would renew their failed push to expand meaningful background checks on gun purchases.

Toomey, who is up for reelection next year and risks incurring the wrath of gun owners, and Manchin were honored last night for their work on behalf of gun control.

“I’m trying to figure out if there is something that could get the support of the 60 votes that we would need in the Senate,” Toomey said.

Related: Republicans avoid talk of race, guns after Charleston shooting   

“We want to make sure we have the votes,” Manchin said, adding that “Pat’s going to have to… get some of our colleagues on the Republican side.”

Obama has described the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre as the “worst day” of his presidency and Congress’s failure to enact gun control legislation as his most stinging setback.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV.) declared on Tuesday that something must be done to expand background checks. “Is that asking too much? Couldn’t we at least do this little thing to stop people who are mentally ill, people who are criminals from purchasing guns?” Reid asked plaintively on the Senate floor.

The answer probably is yes, that’s too much to ask.

Related: Many U.S. mayors skeptical Charleston will inspire gun law changes

As Toomey and Manchin discovered two years ago, even the weakest version of fresh gun control legislation will not pass muster with the powerful National Rifle Association and its many allies on Capitol Hill. Truly tough gun measures, such as banning the sale of certain semi-automatic weapons and large magazines for bullets that are better used for military combat than hunting or civilian target practice, don’t stand a chance – despite the success of other western countries in containing gun violence.

Australia, for example, banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons and instigated a gun buyback for high-powered and rapid fire rifles in 1996 shortly after a gunman killed 35 people and wounded 18 others in Port Arthur and has scored some impressive successes in curbing gun violence. A uniform system for registering and licensing firearms was introduced as part of the reforms.

The bipartisan compromise offered by Manchin and Toomey was a much scaled back version of a larger Senate bill on guns favored by Obama that would have mandated criminal background checks on all sales between private parties with few exceptions.

Related: South Carolina’s Leaders Unite to Call for Removal of Confederate Flag   

Current law requires checks on purchases only from federally licensed gun dealers. The Manchin-Toomey amendment sought a middle ground by broadening the checks to gun shows and Internet sales, but not requiring them of family members and friends giving or selling guns to each other.

In waging war on the Manchin-Toomey amendment in 2013, the NRA asserted that the amendment would have “criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members” to get government approval.

Related: Despite Setback, Manchin Vows to Press for Gun Control   

The NRA and its chief executive officer Wayne LaPierre argued that ordinary school children like the ones in Newtown were entitled to the same protection from violent criminals as President Obama’s two daughters were. If only school teachers and administrators were properly armed, he argued, then they would be better able to foil assaults on schools by deranged gunmen—a comment repeated by an NRA board member in light of the Charleston murders. 

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