The carnage in Aurora, Colorado has re-opened the nation's debate about gun control. The issue came up after the 1999 Columbine massacre, but has largely been dormant since former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot 2011.
New legislation is a long shot, especially in an election year. And while there is talk about about restricting who can own guns, sales of guns themselves are climbing.
One day after the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, this Virginia firing range is packed.
Firearms instructor Mark Briley has a schedule of students. He said the tragedy in Aurora shouldn't change who can own one.
"It makes no sense to penalize people for doing the right thing because a person does the wrong thing."And gun owners have not been penalized. In fact, there hadn't been any new restrictions on gun ownership in the U.S. in the past four years.
There are very few politicians willing to publicly battle to ban certain weapons.
"The bottom line is if we had fewer guns, we would have a lot fewer murders," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"It's time for both of them to be held accountable," said Bloomberg.
Yet popular fear of new laws has helped to pump up gun sales. Ruger and Smith & Wesson are backlogged with orders.
While new laws aren't likely, first-time gun owner Annie Fowler said police should work harder to enforce existing laws for gun buyers.
"I think they're have been some laxes in how it's been done and I think it's important that it really be done -- a little bit of rigor," she said.
Even if new laws are enacted, it is unlikely that they would be able to separate gun owners from the nearly 300 million firearms already in U.S. households.
Ken Woitaszek, Shooters
Committee On Public Education
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Former Erie Dist Atty
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NY Sen. Patrick Gallivan, Former Erie Co. Sheriff
(CBS News) Congressman Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., who represents Aurora, said gun laws must be addressed, including the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
However, he said this is not an issue for the president but for the Congress.
"You know, should we reinstate the assault weapons ban? I think we should, and I think that's where it starts," Perlmutter said on "Face the Nation."
"We ought to be taking a look at how this guy was able to accumulate so much ammunition. He had enough ammunition for, like, a small army. There's something wrong about that."
In a previous segment on "Face the Nation," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney should define their positions on the assault weapon ban, but Perlmutter said the mayor's focus is misplaced.
"I think he's putting his finger on the wrong spot. This is a Congressional issue," Perlmutter said, promising to keep the issue in the spotlight in Congress.
"I don't think we can avoid it. Carolyn McCarthy from New York, you know, has been a big advocate in this arena, and I'm going to be with her," he said.
Once, every highly publicized outbreak of gun violence produced strong calls from Democrats and a few Republicans for tougher controls on firearms.
Now those pleas are muted, a political paradox that's grown more pronounced in an era scarred by Columbine, Virginia Tech, the wounding of a congresswoman and now the shooting in a suburban movie theater where carnage is expected on-screen only."We don't want sympathy. We want action," Dan Gross, president of the Brady campaign said Friday as President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney mourned the dead.
Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, was more emphatic than many in the early hours after the shooting. "Everyone is scared of the NRA," he said on MSNBC. "Number one, there are some things worth losing for in politics and to be able to prevent carnage like this is worth losing for."
Yet it's been more than a decade since gun control advocates had a realistic hope of getting the type of legislation they seek, despite predictions that each shocking outburst of violence would lead to action.
In 1994, Congress approved a 10-year ban on 19 types of military-style assault weapons. Some Democrats quickly came to believe the legislation contributed to their loss of the House a few months later.
Five years later, Vice President Al Gore cast a tie-breaking Senate vote on legislation to restrict sales at gun shows.
The two events turned out to be the high-water mark of recent Democratic drives to enact federal legislation aimed at reducing gun violence, and some Republicans said they could see the shift coming.
CBS Video: Colorado Cong. Ed Perlmutter
"The news media in its lather to distort this whole issue may be wrong in their estimation that this will help Al Gore," then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said in an Associated Press interview a few weeks after the tie-breaking vote. "As a matter of fact, it may already have hurt him, and it may hurt him a lot more."
By 2004, when the assault weapon ban lapsed, congressional Democrats made no serious attempt to pass an extension. President George W. Bush was content to let it fade into history.
Public sentiment had swung.
According to a Gallup poll in 1990, 78 percent of those surveyed said laws covering the sale of firearms should be stricter, while 19 percent said they should remain the same or be loosened.
By the fall of 2004 support for tougher laws had dropped to 54 percent. In last year's sounding, 43 percent said they should be stricter, and 55 percent said they should stay the same or be made more lenient.
In terms of electoral politics, Harry Wilson, a Roanoke College professor and author of a book on gun politics, said violent crime has been declining in recent years and, "It becomes increasingly difficult to make the argument that we need stricter gun control laws."
Additionally, he said in some regions, gun control "can be a winning issue for Democrats. But nationally, it's a loser ... and they have figured that out." Attempts to emphasize the issue will "really motivate the opposition. And in a political campaign, nobody wants to do that," he said.
LEAD EDITORIAL SUNDAY
Blood on hands of Obama, Mitt and NRA!The police chief in Aurora, Colo., said he is confident that massacre gunman James Holmes acted alone. The police chief was dead wrong.
Standing at Holmes’ side as he unleashed an AR-15 assault rifle and a shotgun and a handgun was Wayne LaPierre, political enforcer of the National Rifle Association.
Standing at Holmes’ side as he sprayed bullets and buckshot into a crowded movie theater were Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, a President and a would-be President, who have bowed to the NRA’s dictates and who responded to the slaughter Friday with revolting, useless treacle.Standing at Holmes’ side as he murdered 12 and wounded 59 were the millions of zealots who would sooner see blood flow and lives end than have to check a box on a gun registration form.
In a vain claim of innocence, the fanatics will say Holmes is a monster and a maniac, that he fired and fired and fired as a man possessed. Each protestation clamps their fingers with his around the trigger.
Because they made sure that virtually everyone, Holmes included, has unfettered legal access to heavy weaponry. And they made sure he was permitted by law to drive to the kill scene with a fully loaded arsenal.
Yes, they do. Massacres come and they go and nothing meaningful changes except that the body count goes up.
The big attacks leap to mind.
There was Columbine — amazingly, just down the road from Aurora — where two severely disaffected high school students gunned down 13.
There was Virginia Tech, where a student who had been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder murdered 32 and wounded 17 on two rampages.
Lower death tolls — two, three, four, five — in offices, parks and restaurants slip from memory as awful but routine, cause for momentary pain and nothing more.
The day-to-day mayhem of street-crime shootings, responsible for more deaths than all the mass carnage combined, makes it to the police blotter, the courts, the newspapers, the emergency rooms and the cemeteries.
Every Aurora-like spasm provokes the question: How did the killer get his guns? Overwhelmingly, the answer is that he acquired them legally from a licensed dealer under the permissive laws of the local jurisdiction and the deliberately porous oversight of the federal government.
In Aurora, the authorities say someone lawfully bought the weapons used by Holmes and that he carried them lawfully until the moment he pulled a trigger. Even the purchase of the AR-15, a rapid-fire, military-style semi-automatic fit for nothing but combat, was by the books.
Once, federal law would have kept Holmes’ hands off a superdeadly weapon like the AR-15. In 1994, under President Bill Clinton, Congress outlawed the manufacture and possession of assault weapons, but the statute had a 10-year expiration date.
IN 2004, it went off the books to cheers from the NRA, led by LaPierre, who keeps Washington in line and who went to ground Friday, declining comment “until all the facts are known.” As if they aren’t already.
Obama postures as supporting a new assault weapons ban but has done exactly nothing to restore the prohibition. Nor has he moved to close the loophole that allows for gun purchases without background checks at weapons shows.His statement about the Aurora massacre was a dodge. Obama said in part: “If there’s anything to take away from this tragedy, it’s the reminder that life is very fragile, our time here is limited and it is precious, and what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things which so often consume us and our daily lives.”
With all due respect, the presidential takeaway should have been a drive for strengthened gun control, if only for the assault weapons ban. In righteous anger, Obama should have confronted the NRA’s political might regardless of polls that show a strong sentiment against restoring the prohibition.
So, too, Romney, who was no less saccharine than Obama in discussing Aurora and is no less craven on gun control. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed a state assault weapons ban and defended tough anti-gun statutes. Then, as a presidential candidate, he joined the NRA and has since professed fealty to the group’s positions.
Through their inaction and their silence, Obama and Romney have fallen into line with all those who enabled Holmes to take hold of that AR-15 and will enable others to do so in the future unless America’s political leaders develop the courage to fight to save lives.