Banning Assault Weapons

Posted Jan. 18, 2011, at 6:02 p.m.

In the aftermath of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that left six dead and 13 wounded, many are calling for a renewed discussion of limits on gun and ammunition ownership. Such a conversation is overdue.

A common question is why a 22-year-old who had been rejected by the military and suspended from his community college was able to buy the assault pistol and extended ammunition clip that were used in the Jan. 8 shooting.

The Glock 19 pistol that Jared Loughner is accused of firing in the mass slaughter was fitted for rapid shooting with a 33-round magazine. Witnesses said he had used up a first magazine and was trying to insert a second when he was tackled, preventing further shots.

To deal with one angle of this situation, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey, both Democrats, are preparing a bill to ban the manufacture and sale of magazines carrying more than 10 rounds. Rep. McCarthy’s husband was killed in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting. Their bill would resume only part of a Clinton-era ban that also prohibited certain assault weapons until it expired in 2004.

A 2004 Senate amendment to extend the ban won approval by a vote of 52 – 47, with both Maine senators voting with the majority. But the measure to which the amendment was attached later failed, and the ban expired.

“There is no Second Amendment or God-given right to be able to maim and kill your fellow Americans with military-style arms,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The nonprofit organization takes its name from Jim Brady, an aide to President Ronald Reagan who was wounded in 1981 when an assassin attacked President Reagan.

“Surely we can agree that large-capacity magazines have no place in our society,” Mr. Helmke said this week.

The argument for limiting the size of ammunition clips is not that it can prevent outrages like the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, but that it could have saved many others from the effects of the rapid-fire pistol with its high-capacity magazines.

Opponents fear, perhaps rightly, that even a minor restriction on firearms could be a foot in the door for outlawing guns altogether. The National Rifle Association, with its generous political contributions to lawmakers and its loyal membership, has fought the assault weapons ban and is opposing even a proposed narrow extension that would limit magazine size.

But the narrowly drawn ban would do nothing to harm the interests of sportsmen or target shooters, who have no need for 30-round ammunition clips.

If a narrow ban is to be considered, congressional committees will first have to hear conflicting details about weapons and weapons users. Both sides feel strongly.

But the final result should at least put some limit on the current almost unlimited firepower of a would-be assassin.

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