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Don’t Expect Any Changes in Gun Laws After Tucson Shooting

Carolyn McCarthy and Frank Lautenberg will introduce companion legislation in both houses of Congress that would restore the ban on high-capacity magazines like the one used by Jared Loughner in the Tucson assassination attempt of Gabrielle Giffords, which killed 6. Of all the possibilities on gun control in the wake of the incident, it’s a very narrow bill. There are reasons for that – Republican control of the House, the Supreme Court decision in Heller – but I think mostly that’s a testament to McCarthy and Lautenberg’s recognition that any gun control legislation will have a shockingly long climb. With this, at least they have a powerful argument to make – the magazine used in this attack would have been banned from manufacture just 7 years ago.

This is the question being asked in the wake of the shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. over the weekend. The suspect, Jared Loughner, allegedly used a high-capacity 33-round magazine in his Glock-19 pistol. Without the need to reload as quickly, the shooter was able to effectively hold bystanders at bay, keeping them from intervening until 20 people had already been shot.

Now, with six dead and more than a dozen injured over the weekend, the few vocal gun-control advocates left in Congress are turning the political spotlight on those high-capacity clips and magazines. In the House, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), whose husband was killed and son severely injured by a gunman in 1993, said she plans to introduce legislation that would limit their availability.

“They are weapons of mass destruction,” she told The Huffington Post Monday, “and they’ve become the weapon of choice.”

Nothing untrue there, but very few mass shootings we’ve seen in America would have been avoided under this proposed legislation. Including this one – Loughner would have had to reload sooner, but still would have gotten off his initial shots.

But we’ve come so far in the gun debate, and Democrats have allowed pretty much all opposition to the NRA to wither completely. In 2004, even George W. Bush signaled a receptiveness, after the expiration of the assault weapons ban, to extend the ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity clips and magazines. Now, under a Democratic President and even after the attempted murder of a Democratic Congresswoman, there’s just no appetite for doing anything.

“I frankly don’t know what it’s going to take to get the Obama administration to do even the most minor positive policy change on guns,” (the Violence Policy Center’s Kristen)Rand said. “They have a war basically brewing on the border, and there’s a lot they could do without legislation to address that problem, but that hasn’t moved them to act.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) asked for the White House to give the agency permission to require gun dealers to report bulk sales of semiautomatic weapons along the Mexican border. But the White House missed the ATF’s Jan. 5 deadline, with an administration official telling TPM the rule was still under review.

“They just ignore the issue as if it’s not there,” Rand said. “I think they buy the hype about the power of the gun lobby. I think they and the Democratic Party buy into this idea that if you cross the gun lobby, you’ll lose.”

With the House in Republican hands and barely even a pulse on the issue from the President, who gets accused on the right of confiscating everyone’s guns anyway, I have to agree with the assessment that any change in federal gun laws after this tragic event is remote.

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David Dayen

David Dayen