Agreement on background checks falters
Politics | Leigh Jones
Groups on opposite sides of the gun control debate found almost nothing to agree on in the package of weapons restrictions President Barack Obama proposed earlier this month. Only universal background checks gained widespread, if cautious, support, even among groups that strongly back Second Amendment rights.
But even the background checks might not survive the contentious battle raging mostly behind the scenes in the nation's capitol.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre told lawmakers his powerful gun rights lobby group no longer supported proposals to ensure all legal gun buyers submit to screenings.
The background checks are pointless because criminals who buy guns illegally won't get them, LaPierre said in response to pointed questioning from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. LaPierre also criticized the federal government for not prosecuting potential violators aggressively enough under existing laws. The NRA has long maintained the government should enforce the gun laws it has before trying to enact new ones.
President Obama first proposed universal background checks and bans on high capacity ammunition magazines and military-style assault weapons in the days following the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 first graders and six adults dead. Before that, lawmakers had not had a serious discussion about new gun control laws since they passed an assault weapons ban in 1994. The law expired in 2004 because it lacked enough support for an extension.
Despite the Newtown shooting and renewed lobbying efforts for stricter gun control measures, few in Washington believe the proposed legislation will make it through either the House or the Senate. Even Democrats, mostly from rural states, are hesitant to support the bills filed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, have become two of the most vocal proponents of bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Giffords is still recovering from injuries she suffered two years ago when a gunman opened fire during one of her public appearances in Arizona. Giffords was shot in the head.
During testimony on Wednesday, Kelly told senators Giffords would never be the same. He also suggested some of the people who died during the attack, including a nine-year-old girl, might be alive if the gunman had only had 10 rounds in his magazine, rather than 33.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the panel's senior Republican, said that while the shootings in Arizona and Connecticut were terrible tragedies, they "should not be used to put forward every gun control measure that has been floating around for years." He also said any serious discussion on the issue should also include an examination of the nation's mental healthcare options.
During opening statements, Leahy said universal background checks were common sense and would not hurt gun owner rights. But he also said the Second Amendment's protections for gun ownership would remain intact.
"No one can or will take those rights or our guns away," he said.
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