Gun control: inklings of a compromise in the Great Gun Debate (+video)
Amid a largely partisan standoff on gun control, there are signs of bipartisan support on issues such as gun trafficking and expanding background checks for gun sales.
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Meanwhile, Republicans unleashed a stream of criticism at the prospect of banning certain military-style weapons or limiting magazine capacity, raising concerns about their constitutionality and the impact such measures have at lowering crime and violence. The lack of GOP support – and skittishness from some Democrats – makes the measure a much more difficult legislative haul.
All of the current GOP senators who were serving in 1994 (seven in all) voted against the first edition of the ban. However, Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine voted for the (ultimately unsuccessful) reauthorization of the ban in 2004.
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Former Rep. Gabriel Giffords (D) of Arizona led off the panel with an emotional plea for Congress to "be bold" and act on gun violence. Following her testimony, retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, her husband, repeatedly returned to the issue of universal background checks and firmly called for stronger gun trafficking statutes, while couching the issue of assault weapons very broadly.
“Let's have a careful and civil conversation,” he said, “about the lethality of firearms we permit to be legally bought and sold in this country.”
While nascent bipartisan support appears around a handful of issues, Republicans are by no means running to sign up for new gun regulations. Indeed, conservatives on the panel were ready to join the conversation on gun violence with a simple request: The administration should enforce existing gun laws more aggressively.
“I have a hard time telling my constituents in Texas that Congress is looking at passing a whole raft of new laws when the laws that we currently have on the books are so woefully unenforced,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, the Senate minority whip, summing up a stream of criticism from Republicans that enforcement for gun laws had declined under the Obama administration.
Whether gun prosecutions are up or down – Democrats fired back with their own facts and figures, of course, showing this not to be the case – getting even the issues that have some conservative backing across the finish line will not be an easy task.
National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre repeatedly rejected the concept of “universal” background investigations, arguing that criminals would find ways around the system and law-abiding citizens would suffer additional fees and inconvenience.
“It's an unworkable, universal federal nightmare bureaucracy being imposed under the federal government,” Mr. LaPierre said. “I just don't think law-abiding people want every gun sale in the country to be under the thumb of the federal government.”
And on gun trafficking, LaPierre, whose lobby is widely feared in Washington for its political muscle, said that adding yet-another federal law on guns without full enforcement of current law was little more than a feel-good gesture.
“I've been up here on this Hill for 20-some years agreeing to [stricter enforcement of illegal gun ownership] and nobody does it. And that's the problem,” LaPierre said. “Every time we say we're going to do it – and I'd make you this bet right now: When President Obama leaves office four years from now, his prosecutions will not be much different than they are now.”