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“A Disturbing Sign”: Why Are Some Leading Dems Getting Soft On An Assault Weapons Ban?

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, support for re-banning assault weapons grew exponentially inside and outside of the Beltway. It’s only natural when an AR-15 is used to slaughter twenty schoolchildren and six educators, only months after another was used to shoot seventy-one people inside a movie theater.

Yesterday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—seen as recently as 2006 recruiting pro-gun Democrats to run in House races—said that Newtown was a “tipping point, a galvanization for action.” He’s now calling for an assault weapons ban, expanded background checks, and is ordering Chicago municipal pension funds to divest from all gun manufacturers.

Indeed, it was a tipping point. Five days after the shootings, President Obama stood in the White House briefing room and explicitly called for another assault weapons ban, and Vice President Joe Biden is expected to recommend one this week. Senator Dianne Feinstein announced she’d introduce a strong bill in the Senate, and all the pieces looked to be in place.

But in the past twenty-four hours, there have been disturbing signs of pre-emptive surrender by key Democrats on the assault weapons ban.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told a PBS affiliate in Las Vegas that he didn’t think the assault weapons ban could pass the House, and thus he wanted would “focus” on what could. His comments echoed many pro-gun talking points about Hollywood and violent video games, and Reid openly tried to throw cold water on the gun-control movement:

“We have too much violence in our society, and it’s not just from guns. It’s from a lot of stuff. And I think we should take a look at TV, movies, video games and weapons. And I hope that everyone will just be careful and cautious. […]

“Let’s just look at everything. I don’t think we need to point to anything now,” he said. “We need to be very cool and cautious. […]

“I think that the American people want us to be very cautious what we do. I think they want us to do things that are logical, smart, and make the country safer, not just be doing things that get a headline in a newspaper.”

On Monday, Representative Mike Thompson—appointed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to head the House’s gun violence prevention task force—also signaled surrender on the assault weapons ban, according to Politico:

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Democrats’ gun violence task force, said the magazine ban and universal registration requirement would be far more effective than an assault weapons ban without the political cost.

“Probably the most recognizable thing you can say in this debate is ban assault weapons,” Thompson said. “But the other two issues” – forbidding high-capacity ammunition magazines and requiring universal registration for gun purchases – “those two things have more impact on making our neighborhoods safe than everything else combined. Anytime you try and prohibit what kind of gun people has it generates some concern.”

It’s not that Reid and Thompson are necessarily wrong in their political calculus—maybe an assault weapons ban can’t pass the House.

But publicly dooming the effort before it starts is self-enforcing, and repeats a Democratic proclivity that has frustrated progressives to no end: heading into negotiations and votes with a pre-compromised position.

Americans favor an assault weapons ban 58-39, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll released Monday. The president is about to stick his neck out and propose it, and then push for it in the weeks to come. Moreover, as Thompson and Reid both correctly noted, it’s the headline-grabbing issue here: rampages with assault weapons are what is driving the momentum on gun control.

Democrats would naturally be wise to push forward aggressively on the ban, as they have mostly done up to this point. If they fail, they fail. At least they’d likely be able to wrest more concessions from the GOP on background checks and high-capacity magazine bans during the legislative battle, and potentially force Republicans into a difficult vote where they would effectively be supporting military style weapons on the street.

Yet, it appears Reid and Thompson—absolutely key figures in the legislative battles in the Senate and House respectively—want to drop the assault weapons ban from the legislative agenda. It’s not yet clear that they will, but even signaling a lack of confidence is damaging to both the legislative prospects for meaningful gun control, and for public attitudes and activist motivation. And it’s not the debate demanded by what happened in Newtown.


By: George Zornick, The Nation, January 15, 2013

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Gun Sanity Needs Bipartisanship”: A Political Truth That Must Be Faced By Republicans

The first and most important victory for advocates of sensible gun laws would, on almost any other matter, seem trivial. But when it comes to firearms, it’s huge: Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, attention to the issue has not waned and pressure for action has not diminished.

Please don’t dismiss this achievement. Consider that until so many children were gunned down, the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers for which it speaks were able to block calls for a legislative response in the wake of one massacre after another.

After the shootings at a Colorado movie theater last summer, politicians were quickly intimidated into reciting bromides that drowned a real debate in blather. Nothing happened.

And nothing happened in January 2011 after the mass shooting at a town meeting in Tucson, where Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head. Six people were killed, and 13 others, including Giffords, were wounded.

Her gradual recovery has been a miracle of modern medicine and her determination. Now she and Mark Kelly, her astronaut husband, have been moved by the Newtown, Conn., shootings to help lead the nation’s new turn on gun violence. They marked the second anniversary of the Tucson episode to announce the formation of Americans for Responsible Solutions, and they minced no words in an op-ed piece in USA Today on Tuesday, criticizing “special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe.”

“Weapons designed for the battlefield have a home in our streets,” they wrote. “Criminals and the mentally ill can easily purchase guns by avoiding background checks. Firearm accessories designed for killing at a high rate are legal and widely available.”

Giffords embodies this embrace of a new attitude that one might call “solutionism.” It’s heartening that political leaders from states and districts with long histories of supporting gun rights are now breaking with the gun lobby’s extremism.

It’s also encouraging that Vice President Biden, charged by President Obama with responsibility for proposing a comprehensive approach to the problem, is reportedly going big. He is ready to start with the necessary minimum — a renewal of a more effective ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazines and extending background checks on private gun sales. The last really matters, since the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns estimates that perhaps 40 percent of all gun sales are made by unlicensed private dealers.

But Biden is also looking at how to improve enforcement of existing laws. The authorities should not be prevented from collecting the data they need both for intelligent policy and to track illegal guns. Measures to crack down on gun trafficking, along the lines proposed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer of New York, should thus be included, too.

But there is a political truth that must be faced: Absolutely nothing positive will happen on this issue unless a substantial number of Republicans insist that we act. And before you give up hope, it’s worth remembering that in 1994, 38 House Republicans supported the assault-weapons ban on a roll call in May, and 46 supported the crime bill, which included the ban, that eventually passed later in the year.

Yes, the GOP is very different now, more conservative and more dominated by Southern and rural voices. But key Republican senators, including Mark Kirk, John McCain and Dan Coats, have been willing to back reasonable gun laws in the past. The GOP’s House majority includes 12 members from New York and New Jersey, 13 from Pennsylvania, 44 from the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, and 20 from the West Coast.

A large share of these Republicans, particularly those from the Northeast, are growing impatient with the extent to which their party’s image is being shaped by the wishes and opinions of its most right-wing members, many of them from one-party districts in the South. Suburban Republicans especially need to declare their independence from viewpoints antithetical to those held by the vast majority of their constituents.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been working hard with such Republicans, but he needs allies. Groups such as No Labels tout the virtues of nonpartisanship. They could demonstrate their effectiveness by joining Bloomberg’s efforts.

And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is enjoying plaudits from those who see him as blazing an independent path. The former prosecutor should be eager to earn them by standing up for tough action on guns.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 9, 2013

January 11, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Reframing The Gun Debate”: Stop Calling Anti-Regulation, Pro-Proliferation Groups Like The NRA “Gun Rights” Groups

This time, nearly a month after the horrible mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the public attention hasn’t ricocheted to the next story. On the contrary, sorrow has hardened into resolve.

This time, something can and must be done. And it looks as if something will.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that:

“The White House is weighing a far broader and more comprehensive approach to curbing the nation’s gun violence than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, according to multiple people involved in the administration’s discussions.”

According to The Post’s sources, this could include measures “that would require universal background checks for firearm buyers, track the movement and sale of weapons through a national database, strengthen mental health checks, and stiffen penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors.”

And in addition to whatever legislative package the president may push, Vice President Joe Biden made clear Wednesday that the president wouldn’t shy away from using executive action.

“The president is going to act,” Biden said, according to CNN. “Executive orders, executive action, can be taken.”

So, as we move into this season of change on gun policy, let’s take a moment to better frame the debate.

First, let’s fix some of the terminology: stop calling groups like the National Rifle Association a “gun rights” group. These are anti-regulation, pro-proliferation groups. They prey on public fears — of the “bad guys with guns,” of a Second Amendment rollback, of an ever imminent apocalypse — while helping gun makers line their pockets.

(Sturm, Ruger & Company’s stock has gone up more than 500 percent since President Obama was first elected, and Smith & Wesson’s stock is up more than 200 percent.)

And the gun makers return the favor. According to a 2011 report by the Violence Policy Center, a group advocating stronger gun regulations:

“Since 2005, corporations — gun related and other — have contributed between $19.8 million and $52.6 million to the NRA as detailed in its Ring of Freedom corporate giving program.”

The report continued:

“The vast majority of funds — 74 percent — contributed to the NRA from ‘corporate partners’ are members of the firearms industry: companies involved in the manufacture or sale of firearms or shooting-related products. Contributions to the NRA from the firearms industry since 2005 total between $14.7 million and $38.9 million.”

Groups like the N.R.A. aren’t as much about rights as wrongs. The money being churned is soaked in blood and marked by madness.

Second, more reasonable people of good conscience and good faith, including responsible gun owners, need to talk openly, honestly and forcefully about the need for additional, reasonable regulations.

There is power in speaking up. We know the face of unfettered gun proliferation. Now it’s time to see more faces of regulation and restraint.

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal joined those ranks on Tuesday when he said on MSNBC:

“I spent a career carrying typically either an M16, and later an M4 carbine. And an M4 carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeters, at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It’s designed to do that. And that’s what our soldiers ought to carry. I personally don’t think there’s any need for that kind of weaponry on the street and particularly around the schools in America. I believe that we’ve got to take a serious look. I understand everybody’s desire to have whatever they want, but we’ve got to protect our children, we’ve got to protect our police, we’ve got to protect our population. And I think we’ve got to take a very mature look at that.”

A “mature look” indeed. And that comes from a real soldier, not just someone who wants to feel like one.

Third, we must be clear that we are not talking about prohibition and confiscation but about de-escalation — in both the volume and lethal efficiency — and accountability.

No one is talking about forbidding law-abiding, mentally sound citizens to purchase nonmilitary-style weapons that don’t hold more bullets than we have digits.

The point is to ensure that we don’t sell military weapons with extended clips to the public and that the guns we do sell are purchased only by responsible people. And, once the guns are purchased, we need to ensure that they all remain in responsible hands. One place to start is to require background checks of all purchases and to track the guns, not just for the life of the purchaser, but for the life of the gun.

Last, we must understand that whatever we do now is not necessarily the whole of the solution but a step in the right direction on a long walk back from a precipice. Our search for solutions must be dynamic because the gun industry is wily and our quandary is epic.

We don’t want to pass the point where society is so saturated with the most dangerous kinds of weaponry that people feel compelled to arm themselves or be left vulnerable, if indeed we haven’t already passed that point.

According to The Associated Press, a small Utah town is making a “gun in every home a priority.” The A.P. reported:

“Spring City Councilman Neil Sorensen first proposed an ordinance requiring a gun in every household in the town of 1,000. The rest of the council scoffed at making it a requirement, but they unanimously agreed to move forward with an ordinance ‘recommending’ the idea. The council also approved funding to offer concealed firearms training Friday to the 20 teachers and administrators at the local elementary school.”

That is not where we want to be as a country.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 9, 2013

January 11, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Single Lethal Thread”: High-Capacity Magazines Put The “Mass” In Mass Shooting

Semiautomatic firearms with the capacity to accept a detachable high-capacity ammunition magazine are the single lethal thread that runs through the vast majority of mass shootings in the United States. From Cleveland Elementary School, in Stockton, Calif., where in 1989 Patrick Purdy opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle equipped with a 75-round drum ammunition magazine on teachers and schoolchildren leaving five victims dead and 30 wounded, to the Sandy Hook Elementary School where Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster assault rifle equipped with a 30-round magazine to kill 20 grade schoolers and school staff, this lethal combination is what has defined our nation’s most horrific mass shootings.]

On January 3, 2013, Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Carolyn McCarthy of New York introduced legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines. The bill would ban the sale and transfer of ammunition magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds. Both lawmakers know all too well the damage high-capacity ammunition magazines can inflict. In 1993, McCarthy lost her husband in a mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad, where Colin Ferguson, armed with a 9mm Ruger pistol and four 15-round ammunition magazines, opened fire on commuters, killing six and wounding 19. DeGette’s congressional district was the site of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold armed with guns that included an Intratec TEC-DC9 assault pistol and high-capacity ammunition magazines killed 13 and wounded 23. In July 2012, James Holmes armed with firearms that included a Smith & Wesson M&P15 assault rifle equipped with a 100-round drum magazine, opened fire at the Century Aurora 16 movie theater near Representative DeGette’s district, killing 12 and wounding 58.

As McCarthy stated in announcing the introduction of the bill last week, high-capacity ammunition magazines “help put the ‘mass’ in ‘mass shooting.'”


By: Josh Sugarman, Executive Director, Violence Policy Center; Published in Washington Whispers, Debate Club, January 8, 2013

January 10, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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