December 18, 2012 | Back to: Local News

Gun control debate simmers after Newtown shooting


After the horrific incident in Newtown, Conn., at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people — including 20 children, all ages 6 or 7 — were killed in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, a clamor of voices calling for stricter gun regulations have begun to emerge.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is one of two senators representing California, announced her intention to introduce legislation that would cease the legal sale of more than 100 assault weapons.

“On the first day of the new Congress, I intend to introduce a bill stopping the sale, transfer, importation and manufacturing of assault weapons as well as large ammunition magazines, strips and drums that hold more than 10 rounds,” Feinstein said in a statement. “I am in the process of gathering support for the bill in the Senate and House.”

Feinstein said the bill will also outlaw certain semiautomatic rifles, handguns and shotguns that use a detachable magazine and semiautomatic rifles and handguns with a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 rounds.

“I have been working with my staff for over a year on this legislation,” Feinstein added. “It will be carefully focused on the most dangerous guns that have killed so many people over the years.”

The bill would exempt more than 900 specifically named weapons used for hunting and would grandfather weapons legally possessed on the date of enactment, Feinstein said.

In the statement, Feinstein noted a Justice Department study that found the an assault weapons ban, enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, reduced total gun murders by 6.7 percent nation wide. Since the 2004 expiration, assault weapons have been used in at least 459 incidents in the U.S., resulting in 385 deaths and 455 injuries.

U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock said Feinstein’s proposal would not only prove ineffective at fighting gun-related violence, but would also empower criminals against a defenseless law-abiding citizenry.

“For example, under Connecticut law, without special dispensation it is a class D felony to bring a firearm onto a school campus,” McClintock said. “The gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School ignored this law; the staff obeyed it. As a result, they were helpless to stop him.”

Doug LaMalfa, who recently served on the California state senate before resigning his post to position himself for an ultimately successful run at the U.S. Congress seat, said the time is not right to be bringing up the gun control debate.

“A lot of facts have yet to be determined, so I think that it is important that we wait until those come out before moving forward with legislation,” LaMalfa said.

It is important to show the appropriate amount of respect for the family members of those killed in Friday’s incidents, LaMalfa said.

“It is premature to be talking about legislature while people are still in the process of making funeral arrangements,” he said.

From the senate floor, California’s other U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer deflected criticism that the present moment was somehow unfit for a gun control discussion.

“We must act and whoever criticizes me for saying that now, I say this: When is the right time?,” she said Tuesday. “My heart is broken. Little babies gone – babies – barely on this earth. Loved, nurtured, taught, trusting. Trusting us. Looking up to us. They trusted us and we failed them. We couldn’t even stop a sick person from getting a high-capacity clip. The gunman didn’t even have to reload his weapon until he fired 30 shots. The slaughter of innocents must stop.”

Boxer went on to say the U.S. government has failed the country’s children, noting that 203 students and teachers have been killed and 175 students, teachers and others have been wounded due to gun violence at U.S. schools since the Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colo. in 1999.

Lobby groups react

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., is reporting that they have received a frenzy of calls from people wondering what they can do to help create an environment of more restrictive laws.

The law center ranks all 50 states regarding their gun laws, as the institution has developed data that demonstrates a direct correlation between strict gun laws and lower rates of gun deaths, said Ben Van Houten, managing attorney for the law center.

“Strong gun laws leads to better public safety,” he said.

California received an A- from the law center.

Meanwhile, institutions dedicated to promoting the use of guns by safe and responsible owners have been conspicuously quiet in the days immediately following the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy.

The National Rifle Association did not issue a statement until Tuesday, a usual tactic for the outspoken gun rights lobby, which typically issues statements even after mass shootings expressing condolences for victims while asserting the constitutional rights of gun victims, the Association Press reported.

The National Rifle Association explained its unusual absence “out of respect for the families and as a matter of common decency” after Friday’s shooting, the AP reported. The NRA further promised to “offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”

Some 300 protesters gathered outside the NRA’s lobbying headquarters on Capitol Hill on Monday chanting, “Shame on the NRA” and waving signs declaring “Kill the 2nd Amendment, Not Children” and “Protect Children, Not Guns.”

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that shares of several major gun makers, including Smith & Wesson Holdings Corp., tumbled (-9.88 percent) in early trading as investors braced for the possibility of new regulations.

The decline came on a day when the market at large rallied around news that progress was made in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, according to the AP.

California’s laws

The Golden State has some of the most restrictive laws in the U.S., but state legislators have begun campaigning for further restrictions.

Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said he is considering broader changes to state law on everything from the background checks required to purchase weapons to storage regulations, the AP reported.

Yee, who is a child psychologist, said he hopes the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 young children, will lead to greater support for closing what he called loopholes in existing state law.

“We must reinstate the federal assault weapon ban and close the bullet button loophole that has severely weakened California’s assault weapon ban,” Yee said in a statement.

The so-called bullet button loophole allows gun manufacturers to sell weapons in California with magazines that can be removed and replaced quickly using a simple tool known as a “bullet button.” The buttons get around the state’s ban on detachable magazines that can be used to swiftly reload a rifle or shotgun.

Yee said he also is examining changes including requiring more background checks, mental health evaluations, limits on the amount of ammunition that can be purchased and additional requirements that would demand gun owners to safely store their weapons.

Sen. Ted Gaines, who represents Nevada County, issued a statement Tuesday, saying he would introduce a bill
that would make a critical change to California’s existing gun control laws, keeping dangerous firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.

“It’s time to take a hard look at gun violence in America and California,” said Gaines. “As a father of six children and a legislator, I am sickened by the recent events in Connecticut. While there is no single solution to completely preventing this kind of horrific crime, I believe this bill is an important step in protecting our children and anyone who is at risk from the dangerously mentally ill.”

Current California law prevents anyone who has been judged by a court to be a danger to others due to a mental disorder or mental illness, or has been judged a mentally disordered sex offender, from owning or possessing a firearm, Gaines said. However, upon completion of treatment or at a later date the person can petition the court to issue a certificate saying they are approved to possess a firearm.

Senator Gaines’ bill seeks to amend California law to permanently prohibit gun ownership for those people who met the conditions stated above. There would be no petitioning the courts for future firearm possession.

Assemblyman Dan Logue, who represents Nevada County, echoed the sentiments of LaMalfa, saying it was too soon to begin politicizing the horrible events that transpired in Connecticut.

Logue said individuals need to also look at some of the cultural influences, such as the pervasiveness of violent video games and movies and focus less on gun control issues.

“These recent killings, if someone would have had a gun in the movie theatre or in that elementary school, it might have been stopped,” Logue said.

“Look at the killing in Oregon last week. That guy killed two people and then someone in the cafeteria pulled out a weapon to stop him and the gunman killed himself.”

Logue did agree with Gaines that the state needs to have “strong oversight” of the mentally unstable.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.


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The Union Updated Dec 20, 2012 07:26AM Published Dec 21, 2012 07:58AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.