School Shooting Prompts New Look at Gun Laws

Posted December 17, 2012 in Criminal Law Government by

In an unthinkable tragedy, a gunman on Friday killed 26 people in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., including 20 children, before he took his own life. Adam Lanza, 20, shot his mother to death in her house before heading to the Sandy Hook school with an arsenal of weapons, where he began shooting children and teachers with a Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

Reports say that Lanza had enough ammunition with him to kill every child and adult in the school, but when he heard police arriving he used one of his two handguns to shoot himself in the head.

The school massacre came on the heels of a shooting at an Oregon shopping mall last week in which a man killed three people, including himself. In what has started to sound like a broken record, yet more mass shootings have prompted pundits to argue over what effect stronger gun laws could have in preventing such tragedies.

The trend in recent years has been to liberalize and strike down restrictions on gun use and ownership. Just last Tuesday, a federal court threw out a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois, the only state that still prohibited the practice outright. And Michigan passed a law last Thursday, the day before the Newtown shootings, that will eliminate pistol-free zones in the state, allowing anyone who takes special training to carry weapons in schools, churches and other currently prohibited areas.

The Second Amendment Foundation is currently involved in almost two dozen legal challenges to state and local gun laws. Among them:

  • Woolard v. Sheridan, in which a man is challenging the state’s denial of his handgun permit because he didn’t present a valid reason to obtain one. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will rule on the case, which could have implications for other states that offer discretionary “may issue” carry permits.
  • Jackson v. King, in which the foundation is challenging New Mexico’s ban on concealed carry permits for legal alien residents.
  • Lane v. Holder, in which federal law banning interstate sale of handguns will be reviewed by the 4th Circuit.


The President Speaks

On the other side of the spectrum, voices are lining up to call for more restrictive federal action on firearms. President Obama said in a speech in Newtown this weekend that he would use “whatever power this office holds” to prevent future tragedies. “Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?” the president asked. “I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.”

The Associated Press noted that this is the fourth time Obama has traveled to address a community devastated by a mass shooting since he’s been president: First to Fort Hood, Texas following the murder of 13 service members in 2009; then to Tuscon, Ariz. in 2011 following the assassination attempt on former Rep. Gabby Giffords that left six people dead; next to Aurora, Colo. this summer after 12 people were killed in the movie theater massacre; and finally to Connecticut this weekend.

Will any federal action be taken? In 1994 President Clinton signed a federal ban on assault weapons, but the law expired in 2004 and has not been renewed since. Following the Sandy Hook tragedy, senators and congressional representatives are speaking anew of reenacting the ban, and searching for other measures that could limit the killing power of a would-be mass murderer, such as restricting magazines to holding ten rounds of ammunition, or making it harder for mentally ill people to obtain weapons. 

In a political climate that has been extremely hostile to new firearm restrictions under any circumstances, it remains to be seen whether the haunting image of a school full of dead children will be enough to inspire an honest and thorough look at how to mitigate future dangers to communities posed by the next madman with a gun.

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