New gun restriction advances in Senate, but tough fight ahead
The Judiciary Committee voted to toughen federal penalties against illegal firearms purchases.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — In Congress’ first gun votes since the Newtown, Conn., nightmare, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to toughen federal penalties against illegal firearms purchases, even as senators signaled a deep partisan divide remained over gun curbs.
The Democratic-led panel voted 11-7 to impose penalties of up to 25 years for people who legally buy firearms but give them to someone else for use in a crime or to people legally barred from acquiring weapons. The panel’s top Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, cast the only GOP vote for the measure.
The parties’ differences were underscored when senators debated a proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Democrats have noted such firearms have been used in many recent mass shootings.
“The time has come, America, to step up and ban these weapons,” said Feinstein, a lead sponsor of a 1994 assault-weapons ban that expired a decade later. She added, “How could I stand by and see this carnage go on?”
The response from Republicans was that banning such weapons was unconstitutional, would take firearms from law-abiding citizens, and would have little impact because only a small percentage of crimes involve assault weapons or magazines carrying many rounds of ammunition.
“Are we really going to pass another law that will have zero effect, then pat ourselves on the back for doing something wonderful?” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.
The two other bills would require background checks for nearly all gun purchases and provide around $40 million a year for schools to buy security equipment. The committee was expected to vote on those measures and the assault-weapons ban Tuesday.
Thursday’s debate made it clear that despite recent mass slayings, new gun restrictions face a difficult path in a Congress in which the National Rifle Association and conservative voters have a loud voice.
Solid opposition from Republicans, and likely resistance from moderate Democrats from GOP-leaning states, seems all but certain to doom the assault-weapons ban when gun bills reach the full Senate, probably in April. The fate of the other bills is uncertain.
Feinstein’s assault-weapons prohibition “represents the biggest gun-ban proposal in our history,” Grassley said. He argued that firearms bans don’t work and said, “Had this bill been law at the time, Sandy Hook still would have happened” because shooter Adam Lanza used a legally owned gun he took from his mother.
Democrats disagreed, arguing that assault weapons firing large numbers of bullets make killers like Lanza even deadlier.
The bill boosting federal penalties for illegal gun purchases, whose chief sponsor is the committee’s chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was one of the least controversial measures that senators are debating. Studies have shown that large numbers of firearms used in crimes are purchased illegally.
The bill was approved after Grassley inserted language requiring the Justice Department to take steps aimed at preventing a repeat of the agency’s botched Fast and Furious gun-smuggling investigation.
Georgia moves toward easing gun restrictions
Lawmakers in gun-friendly Georgia want to ease rules preventing some mentally ill people from getting licenses to carry firearms.
Legislators in Georgia’s House voted 117-56 on Thursday to allow people who have voluntarily sought inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse to get licenses. The same bill would force officials to check on whether applicants have received involuntary treatment in the past five years before issuing licenses.
Georgia also may change its laws to allow people to carry guns in churches, bars and on college campuses, contrary to what’s happening elsewhere in the United States.
Judges in Georgia now have discretion over whether to grant a license to carry a weapon to anyone who has received inpatient treatment at a mental hospital or substance-abuse treatment center in the last five years, whether it’s voluntary or not.
“Simply being hospitalized doesn’t make a person a criminal or a threat,” said Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, the bill sponsor, in a statement.
The legislation now heads to the state Senate.