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Gun Control Rhetoric Heats Up

Debate Expected to Focus on Assault Weapons

File Photo
Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, seen here at a 1999 news conference about the gun show loophole, have been leaders of the legislative charge on gun control.

The latest iteration of the gun control debate on Capitol Hill — touched off after Saturday’s tragic events in Tucson, Ariz. — is set to focus on banning the type of extended handgun magazine clip used in the shooting that left six dead and 14 wounded. 

Longtime gun control advocates Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) are at the center of the effort to introduce legislation as early as this week. 

McCarthy and Lautenberg are homing in on the ammunition that was used Saturday by Jared Loughner, who is accused of firing more than 20 rounds in an attempt to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who remains in intensive care following brain surgery.

The gun’s high-capacity magazine was illegal under an assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004.

“The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “These high-capacity clips simply should not be on the market.”

The New Jersey Democrat pledged to introduce legislation to prohibit this ammunition when the Senate reconvenes later this month.

McCarthy, who ran for Congress after her husband was killed and her son was seriously injured in a mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad in 1993, is expected to introduce legislation as soon as this week.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fierce proponent of tighter gun laws, is also reviewing how to move forward after the Tucson shooting.

“As the Senate author of the Assault Weapons Ban, I’m looking at all of the options,” the California Democrat said. “I’d like to talk to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle about this.”

Rep. Mike Quigley, another staunch gun control advocate, said he still plans to introduce legislation to close the gun show loophole. The Illinois Democrat met with staff last week to game out their legislative strategy for the bill, which they had planned to unveil in the first two weeks of this session.

Quigley said he couldn’t get a hearing on the legislation in the 111th Congress.

“I don’t know if this will finally trigger it,” he said of the bill’s chances of becoming law. “I’d like to think that something good can come from this. I’d like to think that the rhetoric would simmer down and that public officials would recognize there is a small population out there that can be incited. I don’t know if it’s the case, but it’s certainly possible.”

Rep. Robert Brady (Pa.) has also said he wants to sponsor a bill that would make it a federal crime to use language or symbols that could be seen as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or other federal officials.

It’s not just gun control advocates who are pushing the issue.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) wrote a note to constituents in his weekly e-newsletter questioning whether more legislation is needed.

Israel, who supports “responsible gun ownership,” wrote that “even the most ardent supporters of ‘gun rights’ owe it to our safety and their own to ask some honest questions: Did the system work? Should it be that easy for someone known to have made threatening statements, to have had police interactions and a violent streak, to be able to buy a 9 mm Glock?”

Still, Not every lawmaker sees this as an opportunity to move ahead on gun control legislation.

Rep. Fred Upton said he did not see a need for Congress to take a fresh look at gun laws in light of the shooting.

“I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment. ... There are heavy-duty penalties for those who violate those standards, as there should be, and I don’t see additional steps at this point,” the Michigan Republican said.

While tragic shootings often serve to jump-start gun control legislation, rarely does it create an opportunity for larger reform efforts.

Gun control advocates at the Brady Campaign said this incident may be different because it was a lawmaker who was targeted.

“People react differently when someone they know is affected by gun violence,” the Brady Campaign’s Chad Ramsey said. “A lot of people know Gabby Giffords. She is someone they work with, who is part of their fraternity. ... One of the things we hope that could come out of this is people take a fresh look at the laws protecting those from gun violence.”

The National Rifle Association is staying out of the gun debate for now. NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam declined to discuss the push for gun control legislation in the wake of the Tucson shooting.

“At this time anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate,” Arulanandam said in a statement.

It isn’t without precedent that the gun lobby would work with lawmakers to strengthen certain gun law provisions.

In the wake of the 2007 mass shootings at Virginia Tech, the NRA cautiously put its support behind a bill that then-Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), both considered gun-rights supporters, backed. The bill, which later became law, set aside $250 million a year for three years to help states to automate and report information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Still, other Second Amendment rights advocates are already pushing back on the expected legislation. Gun Owners of America spokesman Erich Pratt said the incident shows that people who want to commit acts of violence will do so with or without more legislation.

Gun Owners of America is opposed to McCarthy’s legislation because law-abiding citizens need multiple rounds to protect themselves from a large number of attackers, Pratt said.

Pratt said his organization would be making the case that Loughner legally obtained a handgun and ammunition and that having people with guns is how to stop violent acts such as this.

“Even with the gun control laws that we have, they’ve been ineffective,” Pratt said. “This shows what we’ve known all along: Anybody who is committed to perpetrate an act of violence will get their hands on a gun, even if he were prohibited.”

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