Congress To Consider Assault Weapons Ban
Democratic members of Congress announced on Thursday that they will introduce a new bill that would impose a federal ban on assault weapons, following a wave of mass shootings in recent years including the murder of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The bill is more expansive than the federal assault weapon ban that was in place from 1994 until 2004. The proposed legislation names 158 specific types of military-style guns that would be outlawed for civilians. Magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition would also be banned, and any already in circulation would not be allowed to be sold or given away to new owners.
“Our weak gun laws allow these mass killings to be carried out again, and again, and again in our country,” California Senator Dianne Feinstein said at a press conference. “Weapons, designed originally for the military to kill large numbers of people in close combat, are replicated for civilian use.”
Gun owners would not have to give up any firearms they already own under the proposed law, but anyone wishing to purchase one of the grandfathered guns would have to pass a background check.
“If the slaughter of 20 babies does not capture and hold your attention, then I give up, because I don’t know what else will,” Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey, in attendance at the press conference, said. “We have to pass legislation, we can’t allow the legislation to get so watered down and filled with loopholes that it is meaningless and won’t do anything.”
NRA Fires Back
Gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association had already spoken out against bans on specific kinds of firearms and downplayed their chances of passing through Congress. Republican lawmakers, who have a majority in the House of Representatives and enough members to filibuster bills in the Senate, have likewise announced that an assault weapons ban is likely dead in the water.
The NRA released a statement in the same vein about Thursday’s announcement:
“Senator Feinstein has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades. It’s disappointing but not surprising that she is once again focused on curtailing the Constitution instead of prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental health system. The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein’s wrong-headed approach.”
Members of Congress have expressed more optimism about closing the gun show loophole, which allows up to 40 percent of guns sold in the U.S. to be purchased without a background check, in order to make it more difficult for disqualified buyers such as felons or people who have been committed to mental health institutions to acquire firearms.
Lawmakers are also expected to introduce legislation that would make straw purchasing, or buying a gun for someone who can’t pass a background check, a federal crime.
A number of sheriffs across the country have announced that they will not enforce any new gun laws that are passed, calling them unconstitutional violations of the Second Amendment. Can local law enforcement officials really ignore federal law? “An interesting case is Printz v. United States, decided by the Supreme Court in 1997, in which the Court declared unconstitutional a federal provision mandating state officials participate in the ‘background checks’ for gun owners required by federal law (as an implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act),” says Ruthann Robson, a professor at the CUNY School of Law and co-editor of the Constitutional Law Professors Blog. “The theory there was that state officials could not be ‘dragooned’ into enforcing federal law.”
“On the other hand, it’s clear that state or local officials do not have the power to decide matters of constitutional interpretation,” Robson says. “Cooper v. Aaron, often known as ‘The Little Rock case,’ decided by the Court in 1958, reiterated that federal law is supreme over state and local law. The case involved school desegregation, with the Arkansas governor and some local officials arguing they had just as much right to interpret the Constitution as the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said that it was the ultimate arbiter; President Eisenhower used the National Guard to support the Court’s judgment.”