Gun Demonstration

Anti-gun demonstration outside NRA headquarters

The President will support a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban in the wake of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. He will also “consider” legislation limiting extended magazines that carry a high capacity of bullets, as well as legislation closing the “gun show loophole,” which enables gun purchasers to avoid background checks by buying them at gun shows. Press Secretary Jay Carney also emphasized the importance of improving the nation’s mental health system as a way to prevent more mass shootings. This is certainly further than the President had been willing to go after other similarly situated mass shootings over the first term. Vice President Biden will lead a task forcethat will presumably come up with legislative and administrative steps to curtail gun violence.

This follows a number of pro-gun politicians altering their views to allow for some manner of gun safety legislation, including not only NRA Democrats like Joe Manchin, Tim Johnson and Mark Warner, but even some Republicans like Charlie Dent, Jack Kingston and John McCain, the most prominent GOP member to cross that line. Republicans appear to be emphasizing the mental health angle above the gun safety angle, but while the former may apply in this and other mass casualty situations, the latter could get lots of illegal guns off the streets and prevent gun violence more generally.

The assault weapons ban in particular could be helped along by musical committee chairs in the Senate, following the death of Daniel Inouye. The longtime Hawaii lawmaker chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee, a spot held by the last couple President pro tems of the Senate. The new President pro tem is Patrick Leahy, and he has expressed interest in the job. That would open up the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee of jurisdiction for gun legislation like this. And Dianne Feinstein, author of the assault weapons ban, would have the inside track.

Feinstein moving to the Judiciary Committee could upset the plans of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is also interested in running the committee, which has oversight over gun control legislation. But Feinstein’s seniority within the caucus — she has been in the Senate since 1992, while Schumer has only been in the upper house since 1999 — means she will be first in line under Democratic rules. That is a rule Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would be unlikely to overrule when he makes committee leadership recommendations to his caucus.

Feinstein has pledged to introduce gun control legislation on the first day of the new Congress in January. She has said she will specifically seek to ban new sales of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines of the type reportedly used in the Newtown shooting. House Democrats say they will also push for a ban on high-capcity magazines, which make it easy to blast out many bullets quickly.

This would open up the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which could move in a very positive direction if Ron Wyden decides to take it. Marcy Wheeler has the story on that.

House Democrats are holding a press conference on companion legislation they’ve introduced, called the McCarthy-DeGette Assault Magazine Ban Bill. That would mirror legislation aimed at limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines.

No member of the Republican leadership has offered any possibility that they would favor any gun safety legislation, so the opportunity for actual changes in the law remains remote until that time. However, Democrats appear to be unifying on the issue, with the knowledge that their base is sufficiently concentrated outside areas where the NRA mentality rules supreme. If they don’t get the law changed, they probably figure they can make some political hay.

Photo by majunznk under Creative Commons license

David Dayen

David Dayen