With threat of filibuster, does tougher gun control have a future?

Most Americans favor background checks for all gun sales, which would close a major loophole in current law. But 13 Republican senators say they'll filibuster any additional gun restrictions.

Rick Bowmer/AP
Clark Aposhian, president of Utah Shooting Sport Council, holds a pistol during concealed weapons training for 200 Utah teachers, in West Valley City, Utah, in December 2012.

In principle, at least, most Americans want tougher gun-control laws. But as the recent episodes of gun violence recede in time if not memory, the likelihood of that happening seems to be fading as well.

When gun control comes up in the US Senate this week or next, 13 Republican senators promise to filibuster any strengthening of gun safety laws.

“We will oppose the motion to proceed on any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions,” they wrote to Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

Leading the filibuster effort is Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. He has been joined by Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Jim Moran and Pat Roberts of Kansas, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Dan Coats of Indiana.

Meanwhile, a top White House aide acknowledges that some of what President Obama had pushed for in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre – a ban on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity gun magazines – is unlikely to make it into any legislation at the federal level.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Dan Pfeiffer said the focus now is on “a strong, bipartisan bill that has enforceable background checks.” But he also recognizes the difficulty here because of the threatened Republican filibuster in the Senate.

“If you remember, during the State of the Union, with the families of Newtown in the audience, every member of Congress stood up and applauded when the president called for an up-or-down vote on these measures,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “Now that the cameras are off and they are not forced to look the Newtown families in the face, now they want to make it harder…. If we have a simple up-or-down vote, we can get this done.”

Were such a measure put to an up-or-down vote among the American public, it likely would pass, according to a new Marist poll out last week.

Sixty percent of those surveyed agreed that laws covering the sale of firearms should be more strict; 59 percent favor a ban on the sale of assault rifles; 87 percent support legislation that would require background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows.

Another recent survey – this one by Quinnipiac University – finds voters supporting universal gun background checks by an even greater margin: 91 percent to 8 percent, including 88 percent among Republicans.

But a potentially major problem for gun-control advocates – and political ammunition for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other opponents – is public concern that background checks could lead to gun confiscation.

By a 48 percent to 38 percent plurality, “American voters say that the government could use the information from universal background checks to confiscate legally owned guns,” notes the Quinnipiac poll. Among Republicans, that concern rises to 61 percent.

As Colorado and Connecticut have shown recently, passing tougher gun laws may more likely happen at the state level. Oregon, which saw a mall shooting last December, is now considering such laws as well.

The bills Oregon lawmakers began considering Friday would prohibit gun owners from openly carrying weapons in public buildings, require criminal background checks for private gun sales or transfers, and require concealed-handgun applicants to take a safety course and pass a proficiency test, reports The Associated Press. Another bill would ban guns in primary and secondary schools, but local school districts could opt out of the ban.

Speaking on CNN Sunday, Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut – the state that’s home to major arms manufacturers – acknowledged the power of the gun lobby, especially the NRA, which receives much of its funding from the gun industry.

"The reality is that the gun that was used to kill 26 people on December 14th was legally purchased in the state of Connecticut, even though we had an assault weapons ban,” he said. “But there were loopholes in it that you could drive a truck through.”

Meanwhile, the gun battle continues on several fronts.

Some 750 Texas educators took a free daylong concealed-handgun licensing class Saturday at Kennedale High School in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
 
Last week, the Texas Senate Education Committee approved a plan to train armed teachers for gunfights in classrooms or at campus sporting events or board meetings, reports Fox News. Texas already allows teachers and other school personnel who have previously been certified to carry concealed weapons to do so in classrooms with the permission of their local school districts. 

Former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot and severely wounded in a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011 urges a different path to preventing gun violence.

“We're all used to hearing people say that patience is a virtue,” she writes Sunday in a New York Daily News column. “But lately I’m not feeling too patient toward senators and representatives who are listening to the misinformation that’s out there about universal background checks instead of to their constituents, and saying they may not support common sense solutions to ending gun violence.”

“Right now, we have one system where responsible gun owners take a background check – my husband, Mark, took one just last month, and it took 5 minutes and 36 seconds,” she writes. “And then we have a second system for those who don’t want to take a background check. Those people – criminals, or people suffering from mental illness, like the young man who shot me – can buy as many guns as they want on the Internet or at a gun show, no questions asked. That doesn’t make sense.”

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