In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, cries for the re-institution of the high-capacity handgun ban began flowing almost as quickly as did tears. During the memorial service held days after the tragedy, California Congresswoman Jane Harman suggested during her time at the podium that Congress must take action:
“We should revisit sensible federal laws to control access to guns and ammunition. At a minimum, I believe we must promptly restore the expired federal ban on extended magazine clips.”
And Harman’s rally call has been taken up by a number of US lawmakers in a number a number of different ways, most of which have been documented in the mainstream media. Chief among them is New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy who’s ironically titled HR 308 bill, submitted before the House on January 18, seeks to do precisely what Harmon proposed—revive the nationwide prohibition on extended clips.
A well-known proponent of gun control, McCarthy’s reasons are personal: in 1993 her husband was killed and her son was seriously injured when a lone gunman (who also was using an extended capacity clip) unloaded on passengers riding the Long Island Railroad. Since that tragedy, Representative McCarthy has dedicated much of her career crusading for gun control starting with her ardent support as a citizen for the Federal Assault ban. McCarthy, at the time a Republican and nurse, ran for Congress after her representative, Republican Daniel Frisa, voted to repeal the 1994 ban. After being warned about challenging him in a primary, she campaigned as a Democrat and won.
The Federal Assault Weapons ban was allowed to expire in 2004 under George W. Bush. Besides a ban on automatic weapons, one aspect of this bill made it illegal to either manufacture or sell magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds. The weapon used in the Tucson rampage had a magazine capable of holding over 30 rounds which would take the average person about 10 seconds to fire until empty.
Today four states and a handful of cities still maintain prohibitions on high-capacity magazines as well as a number of other bans reminiscent of those in effect nationwide for a decade. McCarthy’s bill is however even more comprehensive: it closes a loophole that existed in the Federal Assault ban that still allowed for the sale or transfer of any high-capacity magazines made before 1994.
Which may leave you questioning, how is that possible? Would I have to turn in my legally purchased extended clip if this bill passes? The answer is “No” and McCarthy explained this aspect of the bill in an open letter to Congress, writing, “The legislation that I will be introducing will prohibit the transfer, importation or possession of high capacity magazines manufactured after the bill is enacted. Many of these devices exist currently and it would be impractical and unwise to attempt to ban their possession – criminalizing individuals who purchased the device legally. Instead, the bill will prohibit the transfer of those devices currently in existence.”
McCarthy maintains that she is not “anti-gun”, stating,”What I’m trying to do is not take away the right of someone to own a gun, but just basically look at the large-capacity clips. Ten bullets and one in the chamber, that’s 11 bullets, so if you’re using it for self-defense at home, there’s plenty of ammo there for them.”
However, McCarthy’s feelings on high-capacity magazines are never in question though, stating in her letter “The only purpose for the existence of these devices is to be able to shoot as many people as possible as quickly as possible. [A ban on high-capacity magazines] wouldn’t have probably helped my husband, my son and those that were in the beginning of the car, but it certainly would have saved lives and injuries toward the other end of the car.”
Forty-two representatives are co-sponsoring the bill and Senator Frank Lautenberg will introduce it into the Senate later this month. Together they have made known their plans to launch a grassroots outreach campaign to court Representatives from across the aisle.
Regardless, McCarthy is facing an uphill battle. With a GOP controlled House the chances of bill making it the Senate look bleak and with House Speaker Boehner pledging to defeat it, most responses from the right have been along party lines. Texas Republican Kevin Brady, referred to the bill as a lost cause that would not “gain much traction in the House.”
“We ought to just take a deep breath,” said Congressman Buck McKeon, “I don’t think that gun control laws are really the answer.” Indiana Republican Mike Pence does not believe what happened in Tucson is a policy issue, stating, “What we had here was a despicable human being who engaged in a barbarous act against defenseless civilians and a deeply respected colleague. I think we should focus on holding that individual to account.”
One of the bill’s 42 co-sponsors, New Jersey Representative Rush Holt responded, to Republicans saying that the belief that Congress has no responsibility to act is naïve: “Yes, there are crazy people out there. All the more reason why we should have gun safety legislation.”
For its part, the Obama administration has been eerily quiet about gun control. During the Democrats super-majority last year, Congress passed but two pieces of legislation regarding guns: one allowed visitors to carry concealed weapons in National Parks and the second allowed Amtrak passengers to carry guns in checked luggage.
There is also a very big reason many politicians talk the softest when it comes to gun control: the NRA. “They have a lot of power down here, and a lot of members here are petrified of them,” said a Representative.
Last year, the NRA and other gun rights groups spent $14 million lobbying politicians, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Gun control groups like the Brady Campaign spent around $185,000.
When asked about the prospective initiative, NRA spokeswoman Alexa Fritts responded, “At this time anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate.”
But calls for stricter gun control are also coming from unexpected places as well.
Prominent Second Amendment rights advocate and Libertarian academic Robert A. Levy, who was the organizer and financial backer behind one of the greatest recent victories for gun rights, District of Columbia vs. Heller, voiced his support and stated in a published report last week, “I don’t see any constitutional bar to regulating high-capacity magazines. Justice Scalia made it quite clear some regulations are permitted. The Second Amendment is not absolute.”
After initially lambasting McCarthy’s proposition, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar became the first GOP member to appeal to Congress to reinstate the high-capacity magazine ban. He had also supported the assault ban in 1994. Lugar however said he is not optimistic about the bills chances of leaving the house. “I believe it should be, but I recognize the fact that the politics domestically in our country with regard to this are on a different track altogether.”
Republican Peter King, one of McCarthy’s fellow New York Representatives, threw out legislation that would make it illegal to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of a federal official at a public gathering which had many wondering across the nation, what about those public officials that want to be around people with guns?
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