The Issue: The gun debate: To have and to hold -- or not, depending on the bill

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International  |  March 17, 2013 at 5:02 AM
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As legislation to help curb gun violence wends through the U.S. Congress, several states and communities are taking their own action -- some that would enhance gun control, some that would do away with control measures and some that would require households to have handguns.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed out four pieces of gun control legislation, including a bill that would require universal background checks and a ban on certain assault-type weapons and high-capacity clips. The other bills would crack down on the illegal trafficking and straw purchasing of and would address increasing school security.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, the main sponsor of the assault weapons ban says President Obama has to be more active in pushing legislation to prohibit military-style weapons, perhaps taking a page from former President Clinton's playbook to round up votes for the measure, The Hill said.

With Clinton's help, Feinstein and her allies passed the federal assault weapons ban in 1994. It sunset 10 years later.

"The Clinton administration really was helpful in getting the votes and working the issue. There's no question about that," Feinstein told The Hill. "I would certainly welcome [Obama] taking a leaf out of Clinton's book and really engaging. I think that would make a difference."

"He's got a bully pulpit that none of us have," she said.

Polls indicate strong public support for an assault weapons ban, Feinstein said. It's time for lawmakers to show some courage and past it, she added.

"Every single public poll has shown a dominant majority of Americans want the assault weapons ban. So it's very difficult to understand the reluctance of people, and in a sense the lack of courage of people. Even gun owners recognize you don't need these weapons," she said.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., the main assault weapons ban proponent in the House, said Obama is hanging back on the issue to minimize pushback from Republicans as well as Democrats representing rural, conservative-leaning states.

"If anything has the president's name on it, there's a full pushback," McCarthy said. "That's why he puts Vice President Biden on it. He was afraid if he got too far in front on it, especially in Washington, they would automatically dismiss it."

Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told The Hill Obama has a broader gun-control agenda than Clinton because he's tackling multiple flashpoint topics, including the criminal background checks expansion to include private sales and the crackdown on the illegal trafficking of firearms.

Away from Washington, state and local governments are taking their own path concerning gun control.

In Connecticut, several bills that arose from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are moving through the Legislature.

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials in several states said they would either pass legislation to exempt them from federal gun control regulations or wouldn't enforce such laws.

In Charleston, W.Va., legislation that would nullify all city and county firearms regulations statewide passed the House of Delegates last week, 94-4, over objections from some delegates from Charleston, which has had a gun-control law for two decades. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The bill would supersede any city or county ordinances concerning the regulation of sale or possession of firearms or ammunition, The Charleston Gazette reported.

The bill's supporters said it was more important to have uniformity in state gun laws, citing Charleston's 72-hour waiting period to buy handguns.

However, Charleston delegates said the capital city should be allowed to set its own standards for public safety.

"I was elected to come here and protect the children that walk the streets of Charleston," said Delegate Meshea Poore, whose district includes the East End, West Side and downtown Charleston.

Delegate Nancy Guthrie, another Kanawha representative, asked: "If we pass this, can anyone take an AK-47 into a municipal pool?"

"Unless it's otherwise prohibited in the state code, I suppose they can," House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley replied.

In St. Paul, Minn., gun advocates, having successfully fought off proposed legislative bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, worked to temper the last major proposal facing lawmakers this session: universal background checks.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press said gun-rights advocates are pushing an alternate gun bill that doesn't expand such reviews and which has support from a majority of state House members, as well as the National Rifle Association and the Minnesota Sheriffs Association. The alternative would strengthen existing checks and strengthen penalties.

"We attempted to put together a proposal that has bipartisan support, as well as geographic balance," said Rep. Debra Hilstrom, a Democrat and sponsor of the alternate bill. "We believe that this is a proposal that can bring people together in Minnesota ... to improve the background check system that we currently have while holding felons responsible for the crimes that they commit."

But supporters of expanded universal background checks told the Pioneer Press some legislators caved to NRA pressure, despite overwhelming public support for expanding checks to all gun purchases, including those at gun shows.

"I think they're [gun-rights advocates] out of touch with the majority of Minnesotans on this issue," said Rep. Michael Paymar, a Democrat who heads the House public safety panel and whose own gun bill includes universal background checks. "The mistake that's being made here is they believe that suburban Republicans and rural Democrats will get cover for voting for the NRA bill and say they did something on gun violence prevention. I think the public is smarter than that and will see right through the ruse."

In Colorado, where a man opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, killing 12 and wounding 58, a package of five Democratic gun-control bills passed the Colorado Senate, including one that goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk, The Denver Post reported.

The bill that cleared the Colorado Legislature would require gun purchasers to pay the costs of their own background checks. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has said he would sign it.

"Within the Capitol, it was a tough fight. Outside of the Capitol, we had the majority of Coloradans on our side," said Senate President John Morse, a Democrat from Colorado Springs. "These bills do not take firearms away from anyone who can legally have one. The political scare tactics have zero truth behind them. These bills are reasonable policies that respect Second Amendment rights, while helping to keep Coloradans safe."

Other bills concerned restricting a gun's magazine capacity to 15 rounds, requiring background checks for private sales and transfers, and banning online training for concealed-weapons permits.

In Maine, residents of Byron overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to make gun ownership mandatory during a town meeting last week, the Lewiston (Maine) Sun Journal reported.

Those who spoke against the article said they didn't want to be told what to do and they didn't want someone entering their homes to ensure they have a firearm. Byron's population is about 140 people.

"We're being told it's illegal and that we can't enforce it," one speaker said. "Why are they doing it? Because they want to make a statement to the government. They don't want to be dictated to but we're getting dictated to by some people telling us we have to have it."

Meanwhile, households in Nelson, Ga., population 1,300, may be required to own a firearm if the City Council passes an ordinance now under citizen review.

The council unanimously approved the proposal -- backed by the police chief -- this week and put it before residents to review before taking it up again in April, CNN reported Friday.

If approved, Nelson would be the second Georgia town in the state to mandate gun ownership. The other is Kennesaw.

Supporters noted a police officer patrols Nelson for 8 hours during the day, leaving 16 hours when the community is left unguarded, WSB-TV, Atlanta, reported.

"Basically this is a deterrent ordinance," Councilman Duane Cronic said.

The proposal, he said, would give families the right to protect themselves and their property "without worrying about prosecution for protecting themselves."

Nelson Police Chief Heath Mitchell told council members the proposal was a great idea that shows "you're in full support of the Constitution."

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