Gun control calls follow Colorado theater shootings, but few expect major changes

A handful of Democrats are pressing for tougher gun laws in the wake of the Colorado movie theater shootings that left 12 people dead.

Moving such bills has become extraordinarily difficult on Capitol Hill because of powerful gun rights allegiances, however, and Republican strategists predicted the latest gun violence was unlikely to lead to significant changes.

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Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) — whose husband was killed and son seriously injured in a 1993 shooting on a Long Island commuter train — told reporters on Friday that the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other opponents of gun control have a simple but effective strategy following gun violence tragedies.

“They will wait it out, wait it out, wait it out, until people forget about it again, until another tragedy happens like last night,” said McCarthy. “We should be proactive before another tragedy happens.

"There are ways of doing this without infringing upon anyone's rights,” she said.


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McCarthy and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have worked closely together on a bill that would tighten restrictions on gun shows, where firearms can be easily bought by people with criminal records in some states.

Lautenberg, who introduced a measure banning high-capacity ammunition magazines following the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) shooting, also called for legislative action on the issue.

“We have to face the reality that these types of tragedies will continue to occur unless we do something about our nation’s lax gun laws,” said Lautenberg.

With a few exceptions, horrific shootings have not led to legislative action on gun laws. Neither the shooting last year of Giffords nor the Virginia Tech shooting that killed 32 people in 2007 led to massive changes in gun laws.

Staunch gun proponents say this time will be no different.

“Any time there’s a horrific attack on U.S. soil where a gun is used, the left comes after the Second Amendment in a knee jerk fashion,” said GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak.

“There’s a strong, bipartisan majority in the House that supports the Second Amendment and the NRA policy viewpoint, which aligns with the majority view in public opinion, meaning little is likely to change politically.”

Even some Democrats expressed caution, which perhaps reflects the political danger some in the party see — just months before the election — of taking on gun legislation.

“This is no time for politics or partisanship,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the head of Democrats’ reelection efforts in the House, said. “Today it is important that we come together as Americans.”

Gun rights supporters such as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) argue that law-abiding gun owners should not be forced to pay the price for criminals who commit senseless acts of violence.  

“Sadly, there are always bad actors who try to cynically exploit crises to advance their agenda, much like the statist elements who used the vicious attacks on 9/11 to ram through the USA PATRIOT Act and erode our Fourth Amendment protections,” Jesse Benton, a Paul spokesman, said in a statement to The Hill. 

“We are likely to see this same kind of demagoguery done with the horrible tragedy in Colorado, but Dr. Paul and his allies are unwavering in fight to protect all Constitutional rights for all Americans,” Benton said.

Some of the most strident comments for gun reform on Friday came from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, the co-chairmen of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group.

Bloomberg made repeated calls throughout the day for President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to firmly announce their stance on gun laws and what they would do differently if elected to the White House in November.

Friday's shooting is likely to reignite the debate over interstate concealed carry laws and the national assault weapons ban, among many other possible sticking points between advocates on either side of the issue.

One of the weapons used in Friday's shooting was an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, which will raise questions about whether to reinstate the assault weapons ban that was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 but allowed to expire 10 years later under President George W. Bush.

The House late last year passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) that would allow people with concealed gun permits to carry their concealed firearm in any other state that issues similar permits.

Stearns told The Hill that Friday’s shooting would have no effect on the legislation, which is currently being considered by the Senate, and he pressed for his colleagues to disavow any attempt at linking the two.

“There is absolutely no correlation between the legislation and this horrible incident in Aurora, Colorado,” said Stearns in a statement. “And I’m hopeful that no one would try to distort the facts to politicize the loss of so many innocent lives.”

One of the rare exceptions of a shooting that resulted in successful gun legislation came shortly after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when Congress passed a measure that was backed by the NRA.

The law bolsters the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) system by providing states with financial incentives to report records of mental illness to the FBI. Bush signed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act in early 2008, but reporting by states remains voluntary.

Democrats on Friday were overwhelmingly reluctant to attribute the shooting to weak gun laws, waiting instead for law enforcement to investigate how and where the shooter got his firearms.

When a constituent posted a comment on Rep. Mike Quigley’s (D-Ill.) Facebook page urging the Illinois liberal to "sham[e] the NRA toadies in congress to enact some gun laws with teeth in them," Quigley said such a response would be premature and insensitive.

"Today, in this moment, let's keep the focus where it should be: on the people we've lost and those who need our support as they recover in the weeks ahead," said Quigley, among Washington's loudest voices in favor of stricter gun laws.

The NRA too was hesitant to lay its stake in the discussion beyond a two-sentence statement on Friday. 

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community," said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam. “NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known.”

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