Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Second Amendment Remedies

Jared Loughner reportedly used a Glock 19 9 mm semi-automatic pistol that he bought legally at the Sportman's Warehouse in Tuscon.  The gun retails for $499.  It has a high capacity magazine that can hold up to 30 or more rounds. The federal assault weapons ban that would have prohibited the purchase of the gun and the high capacity magazine expired in 2004, after heavy lobbying by the NRA thwarted its reinstatement.

The Federal Assaults Weapon Ban was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994.  It prohibited the sale of certain semi-automatic weapons as well as "large capacity ammunition feeding devices," i.e., high-capacity magazines which hold more than 10 rounds.  According to Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, if Loughner had been using a traditional magazine, "it would have drastically reduced the number of shots he got off before he had to pause, unload and reload -- and he could have been stopped."  Under the law, it was also illegal to manufacture these weapons and magazines except for export or for sale to law enforcement 

The assault weapons ban included a ten-year sunset provision.  The law expired in 2004, after an amendment to extend it for another ten years, introduced by Senator Feinstein, was voted down 90-8.  In 2007, a bill to reinstate and expand the ban on assault weapon was introduced in the House by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY).  McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son injured during a shooting rampage in 1993, is a fierce advocate for gun control.  Her bill had 60 co-sponsors but never passed.  Another bill was introduced by Republican Congressman Mark Kirk in 2008.  It remains in subcommittee.

Only ten states have their own laws regulating assault weapons, and Arizona, predictably, has some of the most lax guns laws in the country.  It is one of only three states that allow its residents to carry loaded, concealed guns without a special background check.  In September, Arizona passed a law that allows people with concealed-weapons permits to bring their guns into bars

In the wake of the tragic shooting, there has been remarkably little discussion in the mainstream media about gun control and there does not appear to be the will in Congress to enact stricter gun laws.  The only potential legislation appears to be a proposal to ban high capacity magazines, which Rep. McCarthy and Rep. Lautenberg (D-NJ) plan to introduce this week.  Even this relatively modest bill will encounter strong opposition thanks to the lobbying efforts of the NRA.

The National Rifle Association remains the most powerful lobby in Washington, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  It spent more than $2 million on lobbying through September 2010, and has 23 lobbyists on staff.  As reported in USA Today, the NRA's political action committee is one of the most powerful in the country, ranking eighth in terms of receipts and expenditures.

So, there you have it.  A mentally ill young man was unable to enlist in the military, after failing a drug test, and was suspended from college pending a mental health evaluation.  He had five run-ins with the Pima Community College campus police, was arrested in 2007 for possessing drug paraphernalia and had two other minor infractions.  But, he could go into a sporting goods store, pass an FBI background check "without incident," and within minutes walk out with a new semi-automatic weapon and a magazine capable of shooting off more than 30 rounds without having to reload.

Regulations barring assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and laws requiring meaningful background checks and waiting periods to purchase guns will not impair the rights of legitimate gun owners.  This is not about the Second Amendment.  It is about whether Congress will continue to allow itself to be controlled by a powerful lobby at the risk of the country's health and safety.

[Related posts: Tragic and Inevitable]


Anonymous said...

It's truly scary how Congress cowers in front of the gun industry. I bet our founding Fathers are turning in their graves.

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