After Arizona, The Gun Control Debate Resurfaces

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A few senators are continuing to brave the gun debate in wake of the Tucson shooting. But as they express support for various gun control measures, they also concede that the current political climate gives them little hope those measures will ever be implemented.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, suggested Sunday that the military should be required to inform the FBI when an applicant is rejected for excessive drug use. Then that person would be flagged in the FBI database when/if attempting to buy a gun. (Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter in Tucson, was denied enlistment into the Army after admitting that he “excessively” used marijuana, though he didn’t fail the drug test the day he applied.)

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat already unpopular with gun rights groups, announced a plan to ban the sale and import of high capacity ammunition magazines, like the 31-bullet clip Loughner allegedly used. New production of high capacity magazines was outlawed under the Clinton-era assault weapons ban, which went into effect in 1994 and lapsed 10 years later.

Republican Sen. Richard Lugar told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt on Friday that he would support the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban before adding, “I recognize the fact that the politics, domestically within our country, with regard to this, are on a different track all together.” He went on to note that people all over the country, fearing congressional action, have flocked to purchase munitions that might be banned.

On the one hand, there’s Lautenberg saying on MSNBC, “We don’t have more madmen. We have more guns.” On there other, there’s Sen. Tom Coburn suggesting that guns don’t kill people; the mentally deranged do. (His full quote from Meet the Press: “The people that are going to commit a crime or are going to do something crazy aren’t going to pay attention to the laws in the first place. Let’s fix the real problem: Here’s a mentally deranged person who had access to a gun that should not have had access to a gun.”)

Part of Clinton’s 1994 package called for the Attorney General to deliver an evaluation of the effects of the assault-weapons ban within 30 months. The Department of Justice found that the production of banned weapons increased before the law took effect and prices subsequently fell. “This suggests that the weapons became more available generally, but they must have become less accessible to criminals because there was at least a short-term decrease in criminal use of banned weapons,” the authors of the DoJ report wrote.

So, at least once, a gun ban had the double-edged effect of keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals and in the hands of those who want to exercise their right to bear arms.

(For a great piece looking at the modern history of the gun control debate and its many facets, see Michael Grunwald’s article here.)