After the tragedy Friday in Newtown, Conn., an emotional President Obama spoke about gun legislation, calling for “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” Americans and the world were stunned by the senseless killing of twenty children and six adults.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said she will intensify the urgency to renew the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who heads the Judiciary Committee’s panel on the Constitution and civil rights, said he will hold hearings.
Appearing on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Feinstein promised to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons.
“I’m going to introduce in the Senate, and the same bill will be introduced in the House—a bill to ban assault weapons,” Feinstein said.
On her website, Feinstein wrote, “Who needs these military-style assault weapons? Who needs an ammunition feeding device capable of holding 100 rounds? These weapons are not for hunting deer—they’re for hunting people.”
Today Feinstein laid out details of the bill, according to a Huffington Post report.
“It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession, not retroactively, but prospectively,” and ban the sale of clips of more than ten bullets, Feinstein said. “The purpose of this bill is to get ... weapons of war off the streets.”
When the federal ban expired some states created their own weapons laws. California has one of the most comprehensive laws governing the definition, registration and extensive permitting process for assault weapons. The state law, however, does not ban them. (Read the California law here.)
During her appearance on “Meet the Press,” Feinstein would not comment on whether President Obama had failed to lead on gun control. “He is going to have a bill to lead on,” she said. If President Obama’s campaign promises are an indication of support, we can be sure he will lead the country with Feinstein’s new bill as its first order of business when Congress reconvenes in January.
During the presidential debates Obama affirmed his support of renewing the assault-rifle ban, answering a question about gun control by saying that we should try “keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals” and pledged his support for an assault-weapons ban.
President Obama further demonstrated an understanding of the Second Amendment while debating. “I believe in the Second Amendment. We have a long tradition of hunting and sportsmen and people that want to protect themselves. But there are too many instances where I’ve had to comfort people.”
Mayors support gun control
In a statement, Connecticut Gov. Dan Mallory echoed these observations by the president: “These are assault weapons. You don’t hunt deer with these things.” The country needs to “find a way to limit these weapons that have only one purpose,” Malloy said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and he among others urged Congress to renew the 1994 ban on semi-automatic firearms. The mayor wants improved databases to trace gun ownership, stricter enforcement of gun trafficking and more laws to prevent sales to criminals.
The irony and sadness of the president’s words in October during the debates, saying “there were too many instances of having to comfort people,” unsettle and sting our hearts as we reflect on the Newtown massacre.
While new legislation is promised in the New Year, there needs to be consideration about what the bill should include considering how the 1994 assault-weapons ban was written and allowed to expire.
The federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms called assault weapons. It was a ten-year ban passed by Congress in 1994 and signed into law by President Clinton. It expired in 2004, despite public support for its renewal.
The failure of Congress to renew the ban in 2004 emphasizes the political obstacles that gun laws face at the federal level—namely the National Rifle Association. In 2004 the Senate actually voted in favor of renewal, which prompted the NRA to push for an amendment to the bill giving legal immunity to the gun-manufacturing industry. Ultimately, the NRA forced its supporters in Congress to oppose renewal in its entirety, rather than risk its passage and renewal.
Passage of assault-weapons legislation is going to need the full support of the president, Congress and the American people to confront the gun lobbyists in Washington. Their power to coerce and manipulate legislators has been evident in the past.
The NRA spends huge amounts of money to defend its position. It has opposed virtually every form of gun control, including restrictions on owning assault weapons, background checks for gun owners and registration of firearms. Below are the members of Congress who received the most money from the NRA in 2011-12:
Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) $9,900
Steve Fincher (R-Tenn.) $9,900
Josh Mandel (R-Ohio) $9,450
Eric Cantor (R-Va.) $7,450
Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) $7, 450
Read a complete list of the 100 members of Congress who accepted contributions from the NRA here.