Ed. Note: In the light of today's tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, many people are calling for an immediate discussion on gun control. Here are three places where Congress can get started–a list we published in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting that is, alas, still just as relevant. No action has been taken on any of these measures.
America’s gun laws are truly outrageous: in Colorado they allowed James Holmes to stockpile several weapons in a short period of time, including an AR-15 assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine, without ever registering the purchases with authorities. On the federal level, as we described yesterday, there are efforts underway to put guns into the hands of veterans with mental incapabilities, people on terror watch lists, and to weaken the federal bureau that enforces many gun laws.
President Obama has repeatedly relayed that he is only interested in enforcing “existing” gun laws. Even right-wing pundit Bill Kristol thinks this is misguided: he said on Fox News this weekend that “I actually think the Democrats are being foolish as they are being cowardly. I think there is more support for some moderate forms of gun control.”
So what are some moderate reforms that President Obama could get behind? Here are three bills introduced recently in Congress that would easily fall into the category of “common sense”—yet cannot seem to be passed.
Reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban. In 1994, gun-control advocates vanquished the NRA and passed a federal ban on assault weapons, but during Congressional negotiations they had to compromise: the ban would affect only weapons manufactured after the date of enactment, and the bill would have a ten-year sunset. Bill Clinton signed the law in September of that year.
Alas, ten years later, the Congress and the White House were both controlled by pro-gun Republicans, and it was an election year—so the ban expired. Today, you can for example walk into most big-box sporting goods stores and buy an AR-15 assault rifle. (This is what Holmes, the Colorado shooter, did).
In the wake of the mass shootings in Tuscon in 2010, Represenative Caroline McCarthy—who’s husband was killed in a mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad in the early ’90s—re-introduced a permanent ban on assault weapons in the House. Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Neither came up for a vote.