Gun control?: National debate divides Congress

HEATHER REGAN WHITE Special to the Post South
The Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office recently issued new Glock Model 22 .40 caliber handguns to deputies.

The shooting deaths last year of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Conn., and 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., re-ignited a national debate about guns that has lain dormant for nearly two decades.

In response, a bi-partisan group of congressional leaders crafted gun control laws that would expand universal background checks to include gun sales at gun shows and online, bring back a stronger assault weapons ban and limit the capacity of ammunition magazines. The plan failed on a 54-46 vote, six short of the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate.

These proposals were the first gun-related laws to make it to the floor since the 1994 passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the first assault weapons ban. The ban expired, unchecked by Congress, on Sept. 13, 2004.

Congressional leaders in support of gun control legislation have vowed to try again.

At about the same time those proposals were making their way through the Legislature, gun and public health experts were meeting in Washington to develop an agenda for upcoming gun research to present to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All attendees of the planning session agreed that the lack of good data presents obstacles for any discussion of guns. But there was no consensus as to the what questions future research should answer. According to an article by the Associated Press, a representative with the NRA said better information is needed on what benefits gun ownership provides and how often guns are used successfully to assist in self-defense. An executive with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said more data is needed with regard to how guns are obtained and how many deaths and injuries they cause.

The divide has even reached Wall Street. According to Business Insider, G.E. Capital Finance announced in late April that they would no longer finance gun purchases and one gun manufacturer, Freedom Group, is set to be dumped from Cerebus Capital's portfolio. And at least one state that has recently passed stricter gun regulations has felt the burn too. Semi-automatic rifle manufacturer PTR Industries has moved its operations from the state of Connecticut after the passage of a ban on high-capacity magazines of more than 10 rounds and armor-piercing bullets and an expansion of the assault weapons ban currently in place; along with other regulations.

Recently, Colorado Senate President John Morse, a Democrat, gun-control activist and gun owner, learned that the state has certified that there are enough signatures on a petition to force a recall election. It is the first legislative recall in the state's history. In the wake of the massacre in his Aurora last summer, Morse pushed through a bill outlawing 100-round ammunition magazines, limited magazines to 15 rounds and mandated background checks for sales online and at gun shows.

The recall is being led by conservative activist Laura Carno, who has made a television ad declaring, "Don't tell me how to best defend myself."

Morse stands by the legislation, though he acknowledges it may cost him his political career. In an interview with CBS, Morse, said "It's costing me nothing — nothing — compared to what these families are paying," he says. "Stand up and do something. Stand up and make sure this never happens to another family."

Morse supporters have filed challenges to the petition which could bring about a fight in court, meaning may take months before the recall election takes place.

According to a poll by USA, support for new gun control laws declined in the weeks following defeat in the Senate from a reported high of 60 percent polled in favor of tougher gun laws to just 49 percent support for new legislation.

And while that may be the end of the national discussion for a while, gun-related deaths continue unabated. According to the CDCP, at the current rate of death by gun in this country, 339,000 Americans will die from a bullet wound over the next 10 years. Their research further shows that by 2015, for the first time in around 30 years, more people will die by guns than by motor vehicles.

Closer to home in Louisiana, the Legislature brought several far-reaching gun control proposals to the table this past session, but only two survived to receive executive approval.