After shooting, House Dems take small steps in moving gun reform

Saturday’s shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others has reignited the Capitol Hill debate over the scope of the Second Amendment — an issue that’s been all but dormant in Washington for several years.

Yet the liberal push to bolster the nation’s gun laws is running smack into the political reality that the current Congress simply has no appetite for gun reform — even in the wake of an assassination attempt on one of its members.

As a result, Capitol Hill gun reformers are instead offering a much more limited proposal in the wake of the Arizona rampage.

Indeed, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) — both advocates for sweeping gun reforms like a return of the assault-weapons ban — are crafting legislation this week that tackles just a tiny sliver of that law, which expired in 2004. Their bill would ban high-capacity magazines, or clips, like those allegedly used by Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old arrested in the Arizona shootings.

{mosads}“The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly,” Lautenberg said Monday in a statement announcing the bill. “Before 2004, these ammunition clips were banned, and they must be banned again.”

Even that limited proposal has yet to win the backing of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who have thus far declined to weigh in on any new reforms.

“At the moment the leader’s thoughts and prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords and those who were killed and injured,” Pelosi’s office said Monday when asked about potential reforms stemming from the tragedy.

A Hoyer spokesman was more certain that lawmakers would take a look at gun reform options, but offered no specifics about what those reforms might look like — or if they stand a chance of passing a GOP-led House.

“In the wake of this terrible tragedy, Congress will undoubtedly look closely at how to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future,” the spokesman said Monday in an e-mail.

For McCarthy, the congressional face of gun reform who came to Congress three years after her husband was killed and son injured by a gunman on a commuter train, scaling back the reforms has been an exercise in political pragmatism.

“I’ve been in Congress 14 years,” McCarthy told The Huffington Post on Monday. “I know what I can get passed and I know what I can’t get passed. And if I wanted to get something symbolic … it won’t go anywhere. It won’t even get to committee.”

McCarthy spokesman Shams Tarek said the lawmaker has reached out to both Pelosi and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in an effort to discern “what’s reasonable, what’s feasible, what can actually pass.”

“We’re not married to any specific language right now,” Tarek said, emphasizing that ultimately, the definition of “high-capacity” will hinge on what lawmakers are willing to accept. “That’s going to dictate what the final number will be.”

Boehner’s office on Monday implied the McCarthy bill is a Democratic attempt to politicize the Arizona tragedy.

“This is a time for the House and all Americans to come together to mourn our losses and pray for those who are recovering, not a time for politics,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an e-mail.

In response to a reporter’s questions about possible reforms to gun law, National Rifle Association (NRA) spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said it’s too early to say. 

“At this time, anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate,” Arulanandam said in an e-mail.

The shootings have reopened a debate on both mental illness and gun control. 

Loughner, according to numerous reports, exhibited behavioral problems that led to his expulsion from a Tucson-area community college. Some of the reports, along with bizarre postings he appears to have put on YouTube, have raised questions about his mental competence. 

In the wake of the 2007 shooting spree at Virginia Tech, Congress passed legislation designed to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. That bipartisan bill — supported by both gun control advocates and the NRA — provides states with financial incentives to improve their reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in an effort to block gun purchases by criminals and those deemed mentally ill.

Chad Ramsey, federal legislative director of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, said Monday that “some” states are improving their NICS reporting based on those grants, “but most aren’t.”

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said this week that the Arizona shooting is clear evidence that the current system of background checks is “of no use.”

“He [Loughner] was able to go to the store in Tucson in November and buy a Glock 9. … That by itself is pretty scary,” Slaughter told reporters on a phone call Monday. “Doesn’t anybody remember Columbine? Doesn’t anybody remember Virginia Tech? … We really have got to have some serious discussions here.”

Slaughter said the assault-weapons ban would “absolutely” have helped to reduce the damage done in Saturday’s rampage. The expiration of that law, said the New York Democrat, “has really allowed anyone who wants to to get their hands on these weapons.”

Tarek was quick to emphasize that McCarthy has no intention of broadening the coming legislation beyond the ban on high-capacity clips.

“The more you broaden it, the more obstacles you have,” he said.

Tags Boehner Carolyn McCarthy John Boehner

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