Senate Dems, GOP clash over need for new gun curbs
Democrats have been more receptive to Obama's proposals than Republicans, most of whom — along with the National Rifle Association — have opposed them.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who plans to write gun legislation soon, called for expanded background checks and cracking down on straw purchases, but said nothing about banning assault weapons or high capacity magazines. In a written statement, he suggested that the First Amendment would limit government attempts to reduce violence in popular culture and said the entertainment industry should be "a responsible leader in this area."
Cruz, top Republican on the panel, expressed sympathy for gun victims but said constitutional rights must be protected "not just when they're popular, but especially when passions are seeking to restrict and limit those rights."
In the battle of statistics, Cruz said that of the six cities with the nation's highest murder rates, five — Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago — have tough anti-gun laws. Only Memphis, Tenn., has less vigorous firearms controls, he said.
Responding to Cruz, Heaphy, the U.S. attorney, said there are too many factors that influence crime to conclude that strict gun measures don't work.
Graham said that of 80,000 federal background checks for gun purchases turned down annually by the FBI, barely any result in prosecutions. He said the odds of being prosecuted for lying on a background check are "probably a whole lot less than being struck by lightning or hit by a meteor."
Democrats cited the 11,000 Americans killed annually by gunfire.
Daniel W. Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, which favors tighter gun control laws, said that 2004 data showed that nearly 8 in 10 prisoners who committed gun-related crimes got firearms from unlicensed private sellers, whose transactions do not require background checks. That, he said, underscored the need to expand those checks to all sales.
Laurence H. Tribe, a liberal Harvard Law School professor, said that 2008 and 2010 Supreme Court rulings made it clear that sweeping proposals to flatly take guns away from citizens "have been decisively taken off the table." Banning assault weapons and other especially lethal firearms would not violate the Second Amendment's right to bear arms, he said.
But conservative attorney Charles J. Cooper, who has long defended gun rights and represented the NRA, said the court's rulings ensure that bearing arms "is not to be treated as a second-class right, or singled out for special or unfavorable treatment."