By Gary Walker
Lawmakers who represent communities within The Argonaut coverage area are backing proposed legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would again outlaw the sale of semiautomatic rifles in the United States.
The legislation would ban weapons that have been used by gangs and bank robbers in criminal activities but are also utilized by gun enthusiasts who say the rifles can be used for hunting.
“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 stated late last year. “I am in the process of gathering support for the bill in the Senate and House (of Representatives).”
“I have been working with my staff for over a year on this legislation,” the senator added. “It will be carefully focused on the most dangerous guns that have killed so many people over the years while protecting the rights of gun owners by exempting hundreds of weapons that fall outside the bill’s scope. We must take these dangerous weapons of war off our streets.”
Feinstein was the author of the 1994 assault weapons ban. It was not reinstated under President George W. Bush in 2004.
The senator’s proposal comes on the heels of the tragic killings of 20 children and six adults Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn. at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, used a Bushmaster 223 military-style rifle in the mass murders.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Venice) said he would back legislation brought by Feinstein when Congress reconvenes this month.
“I have been a strong supporter of an assault weapons ban,” Waxman said, noting that he supported the 1994 version. “Assault weapons are military weapons and should not be used for hunting.”
Gun rights proponents counter that many hunters enjoy using rifles that fire bullets at high velocity while hunting.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Westchester) said she would also lend her voice to Feinstein’s bill.
“It appears that we have reached a tipping point in this debate,” Waters responded when asked by The Argonaut if she thought enough political will existed to pass a ban on assault weapons and magazine clips that hold more than 30 rounds of ammunition.
The National Rifle Association, after remaining silent for nearly a week after the Sandy Hook killings, came out swinging at a Washington, D.C. press conference in response to the proposed ban.
NRA Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, in a combative Dec. 21 appearance before a group of reporters, called out several entities that he considers the main culprits in the tragedy that occurred in Newtown. He castigated politicians and the makers of violent video games, and said “genuine monsters” like Lanza walk among law-abiding citizens every day and the only way to deal with them was with more guns.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre told the audience of reporters.
The NRA executive also challenged Congress to put armed security guards “in every school in the United States.”
California lawmakers appear to be one of the nation’s congressional delegations most open to considering some form of gun control. While many Republican legislators still remain silent on Feinstein’s proposal, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock told a Northern California newspaper that such laws tend to “create a society in which criminals are as well-armed as ever and law-abiding citizens are rendered increasingly defenseless.”
McClintock also said the Bushmaster rifle functions with “the same firing mechanism as many handguns, sport and target rifles,” even though it might resemble an assault weapon.
William Spengler, Jr., an ex-convict in upstate New York, killed two firefighters with a similar rifle as they responded to a fire on Dec. 24. As a convicted felon, he was not permitted by law to own or possess a gun.
At the press conference, LaPierre addressed his organization’s silence on the Newtown shooting until a week after the killings transpired.
“While some have tried to exploit this tragedy for political gain, we have chosen to remain respectfully silent,” he explained. “But now we must speak.”
Waters said the NRA has long held a powerful grip on many Republicans in Congress, despite its recent losing efforts to defeat lawmakers whom they consider “anti-gun.”
“The gun lobby has held a very strong influence in Congress for many years,” she noted.
She echoed Waxman’s earlier comments rejecting the need for a citizen to own an assault rifle. “These weapons are only used for killing human beings,” Waters said.
LaPierre also lashed out at safe school sites, Hollywood producers and a usual NRA straw man, the media, for its “complicity” in what he called “a corrupting, shadowing influence” on the public.
“The media acts as silent enablers” in promoting violent video games and movies, LaPierre said. “The media demonize lawful gun owners instead, rather than face their own moral failures.”
On “Meet the Press” on Dec. 23, LaPierre doubled down on his earlier remarks and rejected outright any discussion on gun reform legislation. “If it’s crazy to want to put an armed police officer in every school in America, then call me crazy,” the NRA executive responded to a question by host David Gregory.
President Barack Obama has also weighed in on gun reform.
In an interview on “Meet the Press” Dec. 30, Obama said he would seek gun reform in 2013 as part of his legislative agenda. “Something fundamental in America has to change,” the president said.
“(The Newtown massacre) was the saddest day of my presidency.”
Obama added that it could be difficult to pass any legislation unless there is significant public support.
“We’re not going to get this thing done unless the American people decide it’s important to them,” he stressed.
Waxman concurred. “It’s imperative that citizens get involved and contact their representatives in Congress,” said Waxman, who also represents portions of Santa Monica and Marina del Rey.
A Gallup poll taken Dec. 31 showed that 58 percent of the nation now favors stricter controls on guns.
Waxman said the assault weapons ban is needed again in the wake of the Newtown killings. “It should never have been eliminated,” the congressman asserted. “The time is right for it to be reinstated.”