WASHINGTON—”Americans deserve better; we don’t deserve the mass slaughter in this country,” said Dr. Abigail Spangler, a Virginia resident and founder of the gun law advocacy group Protest Easy Guns.
Quoting U.S. government statistics and referencing the speed of semi-automatic weapons, Spangler said, “Thirty thousand Americans shot dead every year and over 100,000 shot? The carnage here is astronomical—it’s a disgrace!”
Spangler has been fighting for gun law reform since the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, which killed 32 students and teachers. Like many dedicated gun control advocates, she has set her sights on Congress, turning up on Capitol Hill to support the passage of new gun laws.
“Our national legislators need to step up to the plate and protect American lives,” she told The Epoch Times. “Their time is up. Americans are fighting back.”
Spangler echoed the views of many others at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on March 7, where four bills on gun control were introduced and debated.
Three of the bills were passed in the Senate during the course of the week. The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 (S. 54), proposed by committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), passed that day, 11–7, with ranking member Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) the only Republican to vote in support.
The bill, if enacted, would make it a federal crime to purchase a gun on behalf of someone who is prohibited from buying a gun, known as “straw purchasing.”
“It is designed to prevent criminals from using straw purchasers, who can pass a background check and then hand those firearms to criminals,” Leahy said at the hearing.
The penalty for doing so would be a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Back and Forth
Two other bills passed the Senate on March 12: the Protecting Responsible Gun Sellers Act of 2013 (S. 374) proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the School Safety Enhancements Act of 2013 (S. 146) proposed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Schumer’s bill, if enacted, would expand provisions for background checks and data collection, targeting specifically the “gun show loophole,” which allows unlicensed individuals to sell to buyers at gun shows without background checks.
The majority of Americans support background checks on gun sales. In a Pew Research survey of 1,500 people conducted in January, 85 percent of participants said that they are in favor of background checks on private gun sales and at gun shows.
Schumer’s bill passed 10–8 along party lines, with Republicans arguing that more laws will not solve the problem.
“Criminals do not comply with existing background check laws. Why would anyone think criminals will comply broader background check requirements?” Grassley said during the March 12 meeting.
Republicans also expressed concern that the law could be used to create a national gun registry and lead to gun confiscation.
Schumer described the opposition as sad.
“The bill explicitly states no registration, no confiscation,” he said, adding, “Right after Newtown, there was a view that maybe the right place we could all come together on was background checks.”
Boxer’s school safety bill received more support, passing 14–4 with concerns centered largely on cost. The bill, if enacted, would allocate $40 million to school safety programs.
A vote on the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (S. 150), proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), was postponed until March 14 due to her absence from the March 12 meeting.
Feinstein’s bill, considered the most contentious of the four, bans 157 specifically named semi-automatic weapons. It also bans high-capacity magazines and certain gun modifications, while exempting 2,000 other types of guns and “grandfathering” guns already in possession.
Republicans argue that the specifications are cosmetic, and that it is not the weapon but the people who handle them that are the problem. They would like to see more convictions for those who are illegally purchasing weapons and more focus on the mentally ill.
“The debate should not be about controlling guns but controlling people who cannot control themselves,” said Grassley at the March 7 meeting.
Feinstein, author of an earlier assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, fought back.
“This is not some wild-eyed scheme,” she said, reeling off a list of endorsements that included U.S. mayors, leading law schools, and law enforcement institutions. As the mayor of San Francisco for nine years, Feinstein said that she has seen what assault weapons can do.
“I saw the carnage firsthand, and at that time I decided to dedicate my life to do something about it,” she said.
The Long Haul
As the demand for amendments continued and the bills’ authors endeavored to compromise, the slowness and tedium of the process began to hit home for some.
“These laws are not really going to solve this problem,” Naomi Pena told The Epoch Times at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on March 7. “I think we need something more robust.”
Motivated to find out more about gun control after the Newtown shooting and then horrified at the statistics, Pena is a newcomer to gun law advocacy.
Laura Sonnenmark, a 30-year veteran of gun law reform, was more circumspect.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” she said at the March 7 meeting.
On Capitol Hill with young lawyer Luisa Caro, who was wearing a “Moms Demand Action” badge, Sonnenmark was one of the Virginia coordinators of the 2000 Million Mom March, where 750,000 women marched at the Capitol against gun violence.
She agreed that the process is frustrating, but she remains “cautiously optimistic” about a result.
“I am not happy about what they are talking about,” she said, but she conceded that she was happy they are talking.
“They are talking about it and, you know what? That is a big, big step,” she said.
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