WASHINGTON (AP) — One early focus of new gun regulations by President Barack Obama and some lawmakers would reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons, a law widely regarded as imperfect.
The ban, which existed for 10 years until 2004, would have made it illegal for the young gunman in Connecticut to buy the type of 30-round magazines that allowed him to shoot so many elementary school students before he reloaded. But the ban and other U.S. gun laws wouldn't have prevented his mother's purchase of the powerful assault rifle or the especially deadly ammunition that he used to kill 26 people.
A generation of U.S. gun laws — and the inherent compromises intended to balance constitutional gun rights and public safety — reflects the intricacies of applying government policy to stem acts of mass violence.
Since July, there have been at least four mass shootings that killed 47 people and wounded dozens more in Connecticut, Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin. The killing of 20 children and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school appears to be a tipping point that pushed Congress and the White House toward tackling new gun laws.
Obama on Wednesday directed Vice President Joe Biden to produce recommendations on new gun laws and pledged to push for them without delay.
"This time, the words need to lead to action," Obama said.
The details of such laws have long stymied lawmakers. Gun control advocates say this has left significant gaps in laws that have not had and likely would not have much impact on recent deadly shootings.
The 1994 ban outlawed the new manufacture and sale of specific named weapons, including the Colt AR-15, UZI and TEC-9, and high-capacity magazines and clips that held more than 10 bullets. But it didn't ban any class of weapons based on the size and type of bullets used, including the types of high-powered weapons used in the most recent mass killings. It also permitted the resale of used weapons and clips manufactured prior to 1994.
Also, federal law bars someone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution" from buying a gun. Yet Jared Loughner, who has pleaded guilty earlier this year in the deadly 2011 attack on then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., and has at times been forcefully medicated to treat his mental illness, was not ruled by a court to be mentally ill before the attack.
Investigators are still sorting out the past of 20-year-old Adam Lanza, the gunman in the Newtown school killings. But since he didn't buy the guns — his mother owned the firearms and kept them in the family's home — federal laws wouldn't have affected Lanza's access to them.
Tom Diaz, a senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center, said lawmakers should focus on a weapon's firepower. In the Colorado theater shooting and the deadly attack at a suburban Portland mall, police said the accused shooters used AR-15 assault rifles, versions of which were outlawed under the 1994 ban. Diaz said bullets fired from those types of guns are powerful enough to pierce all but the highest-grade, military-style, bullet-proof vests.