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Monday, May 13, 2013

Gun Violence Prevention Legislation Still Alive; LaPierre Wants to Kill It All

According to information obtained from www.senate.gov and the Library of Congress at www.thomas.loc.gov, we have certain gun violence prevention legislation currently pending in both the Senate and the House.  First, there is Senator Feinstein’s bill, originally introduced on 1/24/2013, known as S.150 and titled “Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.”  As of March 14th, that bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders.  The Calendar is composed of several sections, which identify bills and resolutions awaiting Senate floor actions. Most measures are placed on the calendar under the heading "General Orders" in the sequence in which they were added to the calendar; in this case #27 on the Calendar, placed there on March 14, 2013 by the Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, Sen. Patrick Leahy.  (Related Bills: H.R.437, S.691 King-Thompson (HR-1565).

A related bill, S.691, entitled “High-Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban of 2013,” was introduced in April by Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and is also on the Calendar at #36.  This bill has no immediate summary attached. 

The Summary of Sen. Feinstein’s bill reads, in part, as follows:

Amends the federal criminal code to ban the import, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of a semiautomatic assault weapon, including:

  • a semiautomatic rifle that can accept a detachable magazine with certain characteristics;
  • a semiautomatic rifle or pistol with a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 rounds;
  • a semiautomatic pistol that can accept a detachable magazine and has certain defined characteristics;
  • a semiautomatic shotgun that has certain characteristics, such as a folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; 
  • a shotgun with a revolving cylinder;
  • firearms that are specifically listed as prohibited by this Act and copies, duplicates, variants, or altered facsimiles with the capability of any such weapon;
  • all belt-fed semiautomatic firearms;
  • any combination of parts from which any such prohibited firearm can be assembled; and the frame or receiver of a prohibited rifle or shotgun.

However, it excludes from such ban any semiautomatic assault weapon that: (1) is lawfully possessed on the date of enactment; (2) is manually operated; (3) has been rendered permanently inoperable; (4) is an antique firearm; or (5) is used for law enforcement or security purposes or for testing or experimentation authorized by the Attorney General.
Identifies, by make and model, firearms that are specifically exempted from the ban imposed by this Act.
 
Requires the Attorney General to establish and maintain a record of the make, model, and date of manufacture of any semiautomatic assault weapon which the Attorney General is made aware has been used in relation to a crime under federal or state law.

Makes it unlawful to: (1) import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess a large capacity ammunition feeding device (can accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition); or (2) store or keep any grandfathered semiautomatic weapon that may become accessible by an individual who is prohibited from receiving or possessing such a weapon. Requires identification markings (i.e., serial number and the date of manufacture) on semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. Provides for the seizure and forfeiture of prohibited large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

(Sec. 5) Makes it unlawful for an unlicensed individual to transfer a grandfathered semiautomatic weapon to another unlicensed individual, unless a licensed importer, manufacturer, or dealer: (1) has first taken custody of the weapon for the purpose of complying with existing national instant criminal background check requirements; and (2) upon taking custody, complies with all firearms requirements as if the licensee were transferring the weapon from the licensee's inventory to the unlicensed transferee. Sets forth an exception for the temporary transfer of possession in a licensed target facility, but prohibits such regulations from imposing recordkeeping requirements on any unlicensed transferor or from requiring licensees to facilitate such transfers.

(Sec. 6) Amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to allow the use of Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program funds to pay compensation to individuals who surrender semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices under a buy-back program.

(Sec. 7) Requires: (1) the Attorney General to instruct the Director of the National Institutes of Justice to conduct a peer-reviewed factual study of incidents of mass shootings in the United States, and (2) the Director to report the findings of such study to Congress within one year. Requires the Director to examine the impact upon perpetrators of specified factors, including childhood abuse or neglect, exposure to criminal acts or bullying, mental illness, school supportiveness, the availability of firearms and of weapons information, depictions of violence in video games and the media, and poverty or other socioeconomic factors.

In the House of Representatives, we find the following:

H.R.138
Latest Title: Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act
Sponsor: Rep McCarthy, Carolyn [NY-4] (introduced 1/3/2013) Cosponsors (87)
Related Bills: S.33, S.691
Latest Major Action: 1/25/2013 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, And Investigations.
SUMMARY AS OF:
1/3/2013--Introduced.
Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act - Amends the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to prohibit: (1) the transfer or possession of a large capacity ammunition feeding device, except for such a device lawfully possessed within the United States on or before the date of this Act's enactment; and (2) the importation or bringing into the United States of such a device.
Exempts: (1) the transfer or possession of such a device by a federal, state, or local agency or law enforcement officer; (2) certain transfers to licensees under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954; (3) possession of such a device transferred to an individual upon retirement from a law enforcement agency if such individual is not otherwise prohibited from receiving ammunition; and (4) the manufacture, transfer, or possession of such a device by a licensed manufacturer or importer for authorized testing or experimentation purposes.
Sets penalties for violations.
Requires a large capacity ammunition feeding device manufactured after this Act's enactment to be identified by a serial number that clearly shows that the device was manufactured after such enactment.

H.R.437
Latest Title: Assault Weapons Ban of 2013
Sponsor: Rep McCarthy, Carolyn [NY-4] (introduced 1/29/2013) Cosponsors (75)
Related Bills: S.150, S.691
Latest Major Action: 2/28/2013 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, And Investigations.  It has not yet been assigned to the House Legislative Calendar.

SUMMARY AS OF:
1/29/2013--Introduced.
Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 - Amends the federal criminal code to ban the import, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of a semiautomatic assault weapon, and is similar in content to Sen. Feinstein’s bill, S.150.

H.R.1565 - This bi-partisan bill seems to have the support of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and has already garnered 159 Co-sponsors including Democrat Rep. Thompson whose name appears as Co-sponsor.
Latest Title: Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2013
Official Title as Introduced:  To protect Second Amendment rights, ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and provide a responsible and consistent background check process.
Sponsor: Rep King, Peter T. [NY-2] (introduced 4/15/2013) Cosponsors (159)
Latest Major Action: 4/30/2013 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.


So there you have it on the legislative front where there is currently little activity of substance, but a promise of things to come.  Harry Reid is a sticking point.  He does not like dealing with this type of legislation, being from a state where the second amendment holds great sway.  On the other hand, he is the Majority Leader in the Senate and basically he calls the shots on legislation and the Calendar.  So, Harry -- how about we get Senator Feinstein’s legislation to the floor where an up-or-down vote can be taken? But don’t make any deals this time on special rules for 60-count majority votes on all amendments. 

What else is transpiring?  Well, Executive Vice-President of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, has no qualms about his stance (and that of the NRA) on this legislation.  During a speech to that group’s annual convention, he made his loyalties crystal-clear, declaring that "we will never surrender our guns" and further declaring that the ill-fated background check proposal in Senate was ineffective.

Here are some excerpts from CNN and NBC News, plus the Washington Post:

He implored members to step up their outreach to members of Congress as part of a fight against "elites" and others who "use tragedy to try to blame us, to shame us" into compromise and who "want to change America, our culture and our values."
LaPierre said NRA membership has spiked, reaching a record 5 million, and he implored members to counter efforts by leading gun-control advocates, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Obama, and Democrats in Congress.

"We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation fight for everything we care about. We have a chance to secure our freedom for a generation, or to lose it forever," LaPierre said.
"We must remain vigilant, ever resolute, and steadfastly growing and preparing for the even more critical battles that loom before us," he said.

LaPierre disparaged what he called Obama's "all-out siege against our rights" and efforts in Congress to enact new gun control measures, calling it "political posturing."
"Mr. President, you can give all the speeches you want. You can conjure up all the polls and you can call NRA members all the nasty names you can think of, but your gun control legislation won't stop one criminal, wouldn't make anyone safer anywhere," LaPierre said.

LaPierre and the NRA propose, instead, that current laws be enforced, that schools include armed guards, that the government rebuild a "broken mental health system," and "for God's sake, leave the rest of us alone!"

LaPierre said the failed compromise background check proposal by Senators Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, were ineffective.
"The Manchin-Toomey bill you later backed wouldn't have prevented Newtown, wouldn't have prevented Tucson or Aurora," he said of other deadly mass shootings in Arizona in 2011 and Colorado last July, "and won't prevent the next tragedy,"
"None of it, any of it have anything to do with keeping our children safe at school anywhere," he said.

LaPierre also referenced the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt as an argument for putting guns in the hands of more Americans.  He was, of course referring to the way Bostonians were, as he put it, "frightened citizens... sheltered in place with no means to defend themselves."

“How many Bostonians wished they had a gun two weeks ago?” LaPierre said. “Boston proves it. When brave law enforcement officers did their jobs in that city so courageously, good guys with guns stopped terrorists with guns.”

Thus, we stand where we stood before: within a House divided.  On the one hand are the protector’s of a right granted by the Constitution and interpreted by the Supreme Court to apply to individual gun owners.  On the other hand, are those who say that every Constitutional right is subject to certain restrictions on abuses of those rights that could abrogate the right or the Constitution itself.  The essence of the argument boils down to what one believes about protection, freedom, and responsibility.

Self-defense and self-protection are certainly important to our well-being, but when they crossover into the anarchy of shooting other people without cause other than a perceived threat, then we have a problem of enormous proportions because we have moved from rule of law to rule of guns.

Freedom is tricky, and it trips us up every so often.  Freedom is not libertinism where one can do as one pleases, and everyone else be damned.  Freedom is not simply an individual right; it is an individual potential within the complicated context of community life.  That is, my freedom is related to your freedom and to everyone else’s freedom.  Society cannot sustain itself with a bunch of individualists going their own way.  Society - the commonweal, the public domain -  is a group of individuals brought together within a framework of laws that allow basic freedoms to all individuals but within the context of the well-being of the society and the restraints that communal living place upon us all.  Therefore, my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are all wide open to me, but they are at the same time restrained by my obligation to others and my responsibility to live as a good neighbor with my fellow citizens. 

The problem with freedom of gun ownership advocated by the NRA is precisely the fact that the NRA has convinced many gun owners that they have an unbridled right to those guns, to use them as they see fit.  Aside from a few educational programs about gun safety and responsible use of said weapons, they do not see any possibility or reason why society should put any restrictions on gun usage whatsoever.  That is the epitome of social irresponsibility.  It bespeaks a hostility to the society that is unthinkable in this contractual government.  It says that my individual right to gun ownership and use is above your right to a potential for a life free from the threat of being killed by an irresponsible, crazed or criminal gun wielder.

In fact, the mantra that having more and more gun owners and users would prevent abhorrent behavior by killing or disabling gun wielders before they can do the same to me is again the vision of an old wild west where the gun was the law and whoever shot first was the victor or the star or the top gun, and the survivor. 

Gun ownership is not just a right or a freedom, it is a responsibility, and carries with it an obligation to defend all of our liberties and freedoms, including the rights, freedoms and well-being of all citizens and of our government.

The right-wing nuts who currently hold sway in the NRA (and the Congress) are not defenders of liberty; they are the destroyers of liberty because they cannot, and will not, attune their will to the will of the people.  The lesson of the rejection of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks is not that people don’t want them, but that a small crowd of NRA lobbyists and officers cowed the people’s representatives into voting against the rights and freedoms of this society to defend and enhance its own communal life and liberty.  They did not attack just gun restrictions; they attacked the citizenry as a whole; they attacked the nature of our Commonweal and came away with a loss that they call a victory.  We as a representative democracy are the worse for their success.  We have lost the ability to restrict an individual right even when that right results in behaviors clearly shown to have harmed society and the citizenry as a whole. 

The argument that such restrictions as limited ammunition clips, background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons would not have stopped the perpetrators of  Columbine or Tucson or Aurora or Newtown or other such massacres, is not the point.  What we need to do is change the mind-set, the viewpoint, the norms that people now accept so readily: that gun violence is the price we must pay for the right to gun ownership; that gun violence cannot at least be diminished by wise and prudent and sensible laws, without diminishing the right of  responsible citizens to bear arms.  We are being told by the NRA and their co-conspirators that responsible gun violence prevention legislation and laws are not the prerogative of the people or in their interest.  Such bamboozling talk is anti-community and anti-democracy, for we are being sold the false rule of guns and their owners, rather than the sovereign rule of law. 

The NRA has too much profit motive for us to ever believe their rhetoric.  They are now speaking, not for their members, but for the gun manufacturers who want to sell as many guns as they can to as many people as possible, so they can increase their profit margin.  Every time Wayne LaPierre opens his mouth to speak, we should hear his words of gun industry CEOs and Board Presidents flowing forth to produce greater sales.  The protective barrier constructed by the NRA to keep the second amendment sacrosanct is nothing more than the protective cover of a lobbying group seeking corporate payments and acquired clout.  Don’t be bamboozled by Wayne LaPierre, or any of his ilk.