Tucson Shootings Revive Calls For Tougher Gun LawsFor the past several years, the issue of gun control has all but disappeared from the debate in Congress. Despite other incidents of mass violence, such as the shootings at Virginia Tech, lawmakers have been reluctant to propose or even discuss new gun legislation. Proponents hope this time things may be different.
In the wake of the Tucson shootings, gun control supporters say it's time to take on the issue of tighter gun restrictions.
That issue has all but disappeared from the debate in Congress. Despite other incidents of mass violence, such as the shootings at Virginia Tech, lawmakers have been reluctant to propose or even discuss tougher gun legislation.
For those who would restrict access to guns, it's been a lost decade: The ban on so-called assault weapons expired in 2004, and Congress failed to renew it. In recent years, new federal laws have allowed guns in the national parks. Some states now allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
Last year, Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois tried to get a hearing on the so-called gun-show loophole, which allows gun buyers to avoid a background check if they purchase a firearm from a nonregistered dealer.
"Just to show you ... the climate in D.C. about this before this incident, my staff and I couldn't get a hearing on closing the gun-show loophole," he said.
And that was at a time when the House was under the control of Democrats, who've traditionally been more sympathetic to gun control measures. Lately, as Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia showed in his campaign last year, that's no longer always the case.
In one ad, Manchin loads a rifle and points it at a piece of legislation. "I'll take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill," he says as he pulls the trigger.
It should be noted that Manchin was shooting at paper, in a state where hunting and guns are a part of the culture. But Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign, which supports tougher gun laws, says the ad is typical.
"Most of our elected officials have wanted to run away from the gun issue," he says. "They've been doing that for years. Too many in one party just march lock-step to the NRA, and too many in the other party are afraid of the NRA, so they avoid the issue."
But lawmakers may only be reflecting public opinion. A Gallup Poll released in October found that 44 percent of Americans thought gun laws should be stricter. Compare that to 2000, when 62 percent wanted stricter gun laws, and 1990, when the number favoring stricter gun laws was 78 percent.
After the shootings in Tucson, backers of tighter gun restrictions say it's time to try again.
"Based on what we know so far, the system that is supposed to protect us from dangerous and deranged people has failed once again," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Some lawmakers are focused on trying to ban the type of magazine the alleged shooter had attached to his gun. It allowed him to fire 30 shots before stopping to reload.
"With a 30-round clip, you're not defending your home. You're not hunting deer. You're hunting people," said Quigley, the Illinois Democrat.
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York announced Tuesday that he plans to introduce legislation banning anyone from carrying a loaded gun within 1,000 feet of a federal official -- from the president down to a member of Congress.
"This legislation, I believe, is essential," he said. "I always believe if we can take a horrible tragedy and attempt to get something good out of it, then all is not lost."
But opponents of tighter gun laws are not backing down. Chris Knox of the Firearms Coalition says a law banning high-capacity magazines is bound to be ineffective.
"I'm not that good, and I can change a magazine in about a second and a half. It doesn't take that much: You drop the magazine, you put the new one in and you go back," he said. "Anytime you focus on the instrumentality of an act like this, you're focusing your efforts in the wrong place."
Knox says efforts should be focused on preventing people with mental illnesses from obtaining firearms. And that may be one area where gun control opponents and backers can find some common ground.