As was the case in early 2011, following the shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords and eighteen others in Tuscon, Arizona, some Democrats in Congress are now pushing for tougher gun laws in the wake of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, this month.
Legislation introduced by seven Democratic senators late last week, as an amendment to a cybersecurity bill, would make it illegal to possess or transfer high-volume ammunition, like the high-capacity clip used by the Aurora shooter, or gun belts and bandoliers. Senators Frank Lautenberg, Barbara Boxer, Jack Reed, Robert Menendez, Kirsten Gillibrand, Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein sponsored the legislation. (It’s identical to stand-alone legislation introduced by Lautenberg last week).
It’s really hard to get even sensible gun restrictions through Congress, as we recently noted, but what’s particularly interesting about this bill even if it doesn’t pass is that Schumer is behind it. Aside from being the messaging point-person for Senate Democrats, Schumer’s evolving positions on guns have been representative of the larger Democratic Party evolution. As National Journal notes, Schumer went from aggressively pushing gun control legislation in the 1980s and 90s, to becoming “a key architect of an electoral strategy through which Democrats surrendered any attempt to push gun control in a successful effort to pick up seats in rural states and districts.”
Schumer took to the Senate floor last week and perhaps tested out a new party message on gun control: that the situation is out of control, and everyone should at least agree on some common-sense reforms:
Schumer said on Thursday that liberals for decades have read the Second Amendment “through a pinhole” despite backing broad interpretations of constitutional rights, such as due process. That has lead gun-rights advocates to reasonably conclude that Democrats’ call for some restrictions “was a smoke screen” for an effort to “take away your gun,” Schumer said.
To rekindle efforts to pass “rational laws on guns,” gun-control supporters should “make it clear once and for all that that is not our goal” by affirming “that there is right to bear arms just like there’s a right to free speech and others,” Schumer said.
“Once we establish that it’s in the Constitution, it’s part of the American way of life even though some don’t like it; once we establish that basic paradigm that no one wants to abolish guns for everybody…then maybe we can begin the other side of the dialogue,” Schumer said.
This is an extremely small step, but notably a bit further than President Obama is willing to go. He endorsed this rhetorical frame in a speech last week, saying that banning assault weapons “shouldn’t be controversial” and “should be common sense.” But the White House later said it still wouldn’t call for any new gun laws, and has not taken a position on the Democratic bill in the Senate.