(WOMENSENEWS)–Republicans and conservative Democrats have ambushed bills limiting firearms since 1994, but two veteran Congresswomen think it’s time to try again.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, believe the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of
Arizona, at a Tucson shopping center Jan. 8 will be a powerful incentive for the 112th Congress to pass laws to protect innocent bystanders. Using an automatic pistol, the shooter in Tucson killed six bystanders and wounded 14 more.
McCarthy’s bill would keep the worst tools of mass murderers away from the general public by restricting ammunition magazines to a maximum of 10 rounds. Such a ban was in effect between 1994 and 2004 as part of the ban on assault weapons, which also expired in 2004. Since then, high-capacity magazine clips have been available for purchase without restrictions.
Jared Loughner, the suspect in the Tucson shooting, allegedly fired off 31 bullets in 15 seconds before he was wrestled to the ground by a bystander as he was trying to reload another 31-clip.
Boxer’s bill, which requires states to tighten laws that permit individuals to carry concealed weapons, was introduced Jan. 25.
Shams J. Tarek, communications director for McCarthy, said momentum is building for passage of the ban in McCarthy’s bill and that the House bill already has 80 co-sponsors. It has been referred to the House Sub-Committee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
"An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate by Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey," said Tarek in a phone interview. "Prominent pro-gun Republicans, like former Vice President Dick Cheney, a NRA member and hunter, and Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have said it is time to reconsider a ban on high-capacity magazines."
Some pro-gun Republicans in the GOP-controlled House are accused of stalling consideration until public outrage over the Arizona violence fades.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, rejected calls by 16 Democrats on the committee in late January for hearings on gun safety measures, suggesting that such hearings could threaten the prosecution of the alleged gunman.
Gun Ownership Consequences
To win support from male legislators, Katherine Hennigan, chair of the Los Angeles-based Women Against Gun Violence–an educational organization that grew out of a national seminar in 1994 that identified gun violence as a women’s issue–said that advocates for gun control must stress that although many people buy guns for self protection, owning a gun often leads to dire consequences.
"Less than 1 percent of all gun deaths in the U.S. involve self defense," said Hennigan in a telephone interview. "The rest are homicides, suicides or accidents. Moreover, studies show that a gun kept in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting, a criminal assault, a homicide or a suicide than it is to be used to injure or kill in self defense."
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois and co-chair of the Women’s Caucus in the 111th Congress that ended in November, said in a phone interview that the gender gap in Congress–where women are only 17 percent–poses a hurdle to passing gun control legislation this session.
"Women are more likely to support gun control measures than are men because they are less likely than are men to own guns," said Schakowsky, a co-sponsor of McCarthy’s bill. "Women also realize the significant role guns play in not only mass shootings but also domestic violence, workplace killings and suicides."
According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 47 percent of men owned guns that year compared to 13 percent of women. In 2007, 1,865 women were murdered with guns compared with 10,767 men.
NRA Pushes Back
In the past, pro-gun representatives and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have lobbied against bills by McCarthy–the leading advocate for gun control in Congress–by claiming that she wanted to take guns away from hunters and target shooters.
The National Rifle Association is currently describing the danger of high-capacity clips on its Web site as "standard equipment for self-defense handguns and firearms owned by tens of millions of Americans."
"Law-abiding citizens choose these magazines for many reasons, including the same reasons police officers do: to improve their odds in defensive situations," the NRA said.
Expanding gun rights is a top priority of the 30 Tea Party Republicans who were elected to Congress in November, as well as the NRA, which spent $6.7 million on the mid-term election. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending, reported that Republicans received 98 percent of the NRA funds.
Boxer’s bill, which has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, faces an uphill fight in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Tea Party conservatives, such as Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, claim that the federal government has exceeded its constitutional authority by regulating gun sales. Paul has called for the adoption of a "Firearms Freedom Act," which would nullify background checks for most gun purchases.
Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group, said that a permit to carry a concealed handgun has "become one more weapon in the arsenal of domestic abusers."
She said that about one-third of the 202 killings by concealed handgun permit holders from May 2007 to September 2010 involved family violence.
Pushing for Obama’s Support
"That’s why it is so important for President Obama to show his support for the gun control bills that have been introduced," she said.
Obama campaigned on a promise to reinstate the assault weapons ban, but he has been a disappointment to gun control advocates.
In 2009, the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the largest grassroots gun control advocacy group, gave Obama an "F" for signing laws to permit people to carry concealed weapons in national parks and in checked-in luggage on Amtrak trains.
Democrats championed gun control in the 1980s and 1990s, but many have backed off in the past decade. Former President Bill Clinton claimed that Al Gore’s support for gun control cost the Democrats the presidency in 2000.
In 2006, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff who is now running for mayor of Chicago, and Sen. Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, recruited pro-gun Democrats for Congress from Western states where support for gun rights is widespread.
One of those recruited was Giffords, who said after the 2008 Supreme Court decision that struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun law: "As a gun owner, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. This is a common sense decision that reaffirms the constitutional right and Arizona’s tradition of owning firearms."
Support for possession of firearms was displayed two weeks ago by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, and Rep. Heath Schuler of North Carolina, the leader of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who announced that they would be carrying weapons during upcoming public events in their districts.
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Sharon Johnson is a New York-based freelance writer.
For more information:
Violence Policy Center:
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:
Women Against Gun Violence: