By Mike Lillis - 01/12/11 01:44 AM EST
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is rejecting gun-control legislation offered by the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in response to the weekend shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others in Arizona.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) announced plans Tuesday to introduce legislation prohibiting people from carrying guns within 1,000 feet of members of Congress.
King said the legislation is not intended only for the safety of government officials but also to protect the public. He said elected officials are not necessarily more important than constituents, but by protecting them in this way, they would feel safer in meeting federal officials at public events.
“The fact is they do represent the people who elect them, and it’s essential, if we’re going to continue to have contact, that the public who are at these meetings are ensured of their own safety,” King said.
King’s legislation got the cold shoulder from Boehner and other Republicans after it was announced.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the Speaker would not support King’s legislation.
The office of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the majority leader is reserving judgment until the King bill is finalized.
“Mr. Cantor believes it’s appropriate to adequately review and actually read legislation before forming an opinion about it,” Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring stated in an e-mail.
The immediate rejection of King’s legislation by Boehner illustrates the difficulty gun-control advocates will face in moving forward with any legislation.
Even Capitol Hill’s most ardent gun reformers don’t anticipate any changes to the nation’s gun laws will be forthcoming in the 112th Congress. They say the combination of a GOP-led House and the powerful gun lobby is simply too formidable to take on over an issue that’s become a proverbial third rail of Washington politics.
“Anything you can get through the gun lobby is going to have little consequence,” Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a longtime supporter of tightening Second Amendment restrictions, said in a phone interview. “I don’t see the likelihood of much progress — I don’t see much hope.”
Aside from King’s proposal, longtime gun-control advocates Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) are working on legislation to prohibit high-capacity ammunition magazines like those allegedly used by Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old college dropout who’s been charged in the Arizona rampage.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers say the public debate about whether incendiary punditry helped ignite the Arizona rampage has overshadowed the more important role that mental health played in the deadly shooting.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said the sometimes violence-laced remarks from Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and other political commentators should be toned down, but were likely not the impetus for the shooting spree.
“Whether you blame them or any of those things on what happened, I don’t think is the issue,” Brown said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Rather, the reportedly erratic behavior of Loughner should have raised red flags about his mental health, Brown said — flags that might have led to treatments that could have prevented the tragic shootings.
“The mental health issues here haven’t been talked about much. We don’t really have much of a mental health safety net in this country. You know, there’s almost nobody watching today,” Brown said.
Although Loughner’s behavior reportedly set off enough alarms that he was expelled from community college and denied entrance into the military, he had no problems buying a hand gun from a local sporting goods store in November .
“This young man should have been [red-flagged] when he was thrown out of that community college,” Brown said. “The mental health safety net’s pretty shredded in Arizona, as it is nationally.”
King’s proposal perplexed some members of Congress, who wondered how it would be implemented because members are so mobile and often encounter individuals without knowledge that a congressional event is taking place.
“I think my concern would be, how do you put a 1,000-foot bubble around a member of Congress and what are you going to do about judges and Cabinet secretaries?” asked Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). “If you get past the logistics of it, it would seem to have a ripple effect throughout the upper echelons of appointed and elected officials.”
A spokesman for the National Rifle Association, Andrew Arulanandam, said this week that it would be “inappropriate” for the group to comment on potential reforms so soon after the tragedy.
Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.