Congress takes up gun violence
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
Senate hearings on stronger gun controls are scheduled to begin Wednesday before a divided Congress and a nation agonizing over how to prevent more of the carnage that killed 20 children and six adults last month at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The gun lobby’s opposition to reasonable controls is already fierce, and political courage is, as ever, wavering in Congress. But this singular opportunity to curb the gun violence must not be wasted in more of the posturing in Washington that tolerates 30,000 gun deaths a year.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear a raft of proposals, including a vitally needed ban on fast-firing semiautomatic weapons, like the military-style Bushmaster assault rifle the Newtown gunman used in his killing spree. The measure would also ban ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets, which have facilitated battlefield-scale killing of the innocent in the Newtown school, the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and dozens of similar tragedies.
Making federal background checks universal, instead of limiting them to sales by licensed gun dealers, is no less vital, closing a loophole that lets 40 percent of firearm sales take place with no oversight. This proposal is the chief goal of many gun-control groups and has a different aim than the assault weapons ban: the proliferation of handguns that are used in most gun violence, particularly in cities.
Another measure would create a separate criminal offense for gun trafficking and toughen penalties on those involved, including the “straw buyers” who purchase weapons later funneled into criminal hands. This should be accompanied by tighter restrictions on high-risk gun dealers who sell a disproportionate number of the guns traced to crimes, as well as new resources for more frequent inspection of all gun stores. Congressional corridors and committee evasions are not the way to advance these bills. They should be debated and voted on in public view so each lawmaker can be tallied on these major issues. The Second Amendment is nowhere at stake.
The fight will not be easy. A bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California would, for example, ban 157 of the worst assault weapons while leaving 2,200 guns untouched in the sportsmen’s marketplace.
“I understand how difficult this is,” Feinstein said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”
The reform effort will require an unprecedented outpouring of public support and pressure on Congress — a national drive that President Barack Obama needs to make unrelenting and well-organized. The sponsor of the assault weapons ban in the House, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York, wisely says nothing will come of the reform effort unless the president is “out there selling it.”
Obama is supposed to follow Vice President Joe Biden in leaving Washington for drumbeating rounds with community leaders. Biden is already emphasizing his mantra for audiences: “Tell your congressman.”
Republicans and wobbly Democrats in the House are waiting on results from the Senate, where the Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, will play a crucial role. He is skeptical of an assault weapons ban and wary of losing Senate Democrats in next year’s elections. But he admits, “We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens.”
Reid aims to have legislation shaped by the Judiciary Committee for floor debate that will be freely open to amendment. This unusual process has the virtue of putting senators on the record for each major proposal, but could weaken a measure as much as strengthen it.
Nothing is settled in Congress. The outcome depends to a great degree on how demanding the public is for credible action against the gun violence ravaging the nation.