Last Updated 14 Nov 2022

An Analysis of Gun Control as a Most Heated Issue in Congress

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Due to the recent rise in gun violence, Gun Control has once again, become a most heated issue in Congress. In 1999 alone, there was Columbine (15 dead, 23 wounded), the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth (eight dead, seven wounded), the North Valley Jewish Community Center near Los Angeles (five wounded), Atlanta (nine dead, 13 wounded), Honolulu (seven wounded), and Seattle (two dead, two wounded) (Birnbaum "Under the Gun" 34). These events have caused many American people to demand some type of action from the federal government. However, due to the intense competition between both political parties and the vast difference in opinions held by each side of the debate, little progress is being made. Today, passing any type of legislation on gun control is like trying to squeeze water out of a rock. Yes, Republicans and Democrats have been debating the issue for decades now and still each side believes as though their ideas regarding the issue are the solution to the nation's so called problem of gun violence. According to recent polls, the majority of the American citizenry approve of stronger gun control.

Eighty one percent of the public see the availability of guns and the increase in the number of guns as the root cause of increasing gun violence in the nation ("Support"). After a six year old shot and killed Kayla Rolland at her school in Michigan, with a gun he had taken from his home, many ask, what measures might have kept the gun out of the hands of this child. Still others suggest that it is too soon to consider what went wrong in this situation. State Rep. Laura Baird concludes, "I know it is not too soon to consider these things. Instead, it's about five days too late." (Baird 11). Last summer a group of Democrats in the Michigan house worked a great deal on developing some sort of legislation to end gun violence in Michigan. The package they put together is called, "Safe kids-Responsible adults-Gun-Free zones", named after the project's three main goals.

Provisions of the three-bill package included measures to require gun dealers to provide trigger locks with the sale of each handgun and to hold adults civilly liable for failing to store a firearm responsibly if, under such a circumstance, a child were to access the gun and hurt someone with it. The adult would also be held responsible if a minor commits a crime with the adult's gun. These provisions are known as child access prevention (or CAP) provisions and already 17 other states have passed these laws. As a result there has been a 23% decrease in accidental deaths of children from firearms (Baird 11). The Democratic position, as a whole, calls for more restrictive measures governing handgun regulation. Democrats want to have a gun show provision added to the gun control legislation. They believe that there should be a mandatory background check with any gun purchase, even those purchased at gun shows. The background check could last as long as three business days after the purchase of the firearm (Taylor A24). Democratic leaders also are looking to extend background checks on all gun purchases, private or regulated (Hyde 23).

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President Clinton stated, "we need Congress to help us keep guns out of the wrong hands" (Schmitt, "Clinton" 22). Last fall, gun control advocates thought they had taken a step in the right direction in that the senate passed a Juvenile Crime Bill to increase gun control. This bill had many gun control provisions (Taylor A24). The bill provided for criminal background checks, outlawed importation of ammo clips larger than ten bullets, required child safety locks on all new handguns, and prohibited juveniles from obtaining assault weapons (Bottaway A1). However, the same Juvenile Crime Bill passed by the House had no gun show provisions included in it. The bill is being stalled in each house of congress because of the mandatory background checks (Taylor A24). Eric Schmitt of the New York Times wrote in his article, "Clinton Renews his Appeal on Gun Control", "but these provisions as well as scores of others are imperiled because of major sticking points on gun shows" (22). In contrast, Republicans are in favor of less legislation promoting gun control and even have fought to have some legislation repealed.

They would like a clause to be added to the legislation that makes gun show purchases exempt from background checks; however, they are willing to deal with a 24 hour long background check (Schmitt "Clinton" 22). Republicans have consistently attacked the Crime Act, the Brady Act, and the Assault Weapons Ban. Although the Brady Act has already stopped 300,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers from being able to purchase handguns, during the 104th Congress, the Republican Party has tried to have it repealed. They are now looking to pass juvenile crime legislation "which would neither require child-safety locks on all handguns nor prohibit adults convicted of violent crimes as juveniles from purchasing handguns ("DNC-Position Paper"). Not all Republicans, however, are taking this traditional view on gun control. New York Governor, George E.

Pataki, a Republican, recently proposed wide-ranging gun controls that would give New York the toughest gun restrictions in the nation. A requirement of trigger locks with new handguns and institution of a computerized system for tracing bullets to the guns that fired them are two provisions of the proposed gun controls. "The Republican majority in the State Senate has hesitated to embrace the governor's proposals, as the Assembly's Democratic majority has done, but legislators in both parties agree that it is all but certain that the Legislature will approve Mr. Pataki's plan, or something close to it." (Perez-Pena 1). Republican Presidential Candidate, George W. Bush, is another who has shifted gears on the issue of gun control. Although he has generally opposed gun curbs, last fall he announced a two year, $1.6 million program to improve prosecution of gun related crimes in his home state of Texas (Lelyveld 24A). He is also in favor of stronger enforcement of existing gun laws and would like to provide more funding for aggressive gun law enforcement programs such as Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia.

He supports requiring instant background checks at gun shows, the current ban on automatic weapons, and increasing the minimum age for possession of a handgun from 18 to 21. He also has stated that he would sign legislation for a requirement of mandatory trigger locks for all new handguns (http://www.georgewbush.com). The Democratic Party has recently pointed their finger at the National Rifle Association, stating that the lack of progress in gun control legislation is closely related to the bond between the association and the Republican Party. Patrick Leahy, a democrat from Vermont said, "congress would pass a bill only if the gun lobby tells Republican leadership it can" (Schmitt, "Clinton" 22). Democratic Presidential Candidate, Al Gore also accuses the NRA of being the reason for the lack of gun control legislation (Schmitt, "Gore" 28). With the total fund raising for the 2000 election expected to top three billion dollars, it is easy to see the influence of big money interest groups on Washington politics (Sun Journal 2A). The National Rifle Association is regarded as the world's premiere provider of firearms education and one of the foremost defenders of Second Amendment rights.

"It long has advocated vigorous prosecution for crimes committed with firearms, but members believe there already are more than enough laws to prove that gun control does not stop criminal shootings. Founded in 1871, "to promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis", the NRA educates the public by distributing dozens of pamphlets and books about firearm Safety (O'Meara 22). Despite the recent mass shootings, the NRA finds itself right where many of its leaders want it to be: "under attack". (Dao 10A). The association is hauling in record amounts of political contributions, experiencing record growth in membership, and boasting about its strongest financial position in years. This just shows that the NRA's defenders become more active and inspired when the right to bear arms is under assault.

"I've been through the good times and bad times," says Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president. "We've never been in a better position." Day to day, the NRA is a force with few equals in Washington. "It is so feared on Capitol Hill that gun control measures don't come up unless lawmakers are compelled by events to bring them up" (Birnbaum "Under the Gun" 34). The bottom line is that the NRA has been a massive force in Washington during recent time. They are one of the few lobbying groups that can deliver votes. They can be the difference in winning or losing elections and they are the reason the Republicans control the house (Birnbaum, "Follow the Money 57). This year, the NRA will have a budget surplus of about $5 million (Birnbaum "Under the Gun" 34). Last year, the NRA contributed more than $4 million to Congressional campaigns and spent an additional $1.5 million lobbying Congress. In October 1998, the NRA's Political victory Fund spent more than $1.6 million for radio advertisements in 42 closely contested House and Senate races. Although the Senate approved gun-control measures in May of 1999, the vote still offered clear evidence of the NRA's influence.

All of the top recipients of its campaign contributions over the previous five years voted against the restrictions, says a study by the Center for Responsive Politics (Dao 10A). The NRA is not the only player that influences legislation in Washington. The major opponent to the NRA, is Handgun Control, headed by Sarah Brady, wife of Jim Brady who was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan. Handgun Control is the nation's largest citizen's gun control lobbying organization with more than 400,000 members nationwide (www.handgunconrol.org). Although HCI does not seek to ban handguns totally, they work to enact stronger federal, state, and local gun control laws. They have increased their spending for lobbying by nearly $300,000 over the course of the last few months (O'Meara 23). Also, founded in 1983, about nine years after HCl was founded, the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence is the legal action, research and education affiliate of Handgun Control. They aim at building connections between law enforcement, educators, legal scholars, and public health officials, with hopes that these connections will stop gun violence ("Center").

Founded in 1974, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is another pro-gun control group. They aim to combat the growing gun violence problem in the United States. Their true goal is the orderly elimination of the private sale of handguns and assault weapons. With exceptions made for police, military, and gun clubs, CSGV seeks to ban handguns from manufacture, sale, and transfer by the general American public. CSGV supports limiting the availability of gun dealer licenses, increasing license fees, and more restrictive licensing and registering of gun owners. They hope to accomplish these steps to ending gun violence by engaging in a vigorous program of lobbying the United States Congress and state legislatures ("The Coalition"). The heated issue of gun control is torn in two by the two political parties in Congress. With interest groups pouring massive amounts of money into the elections and spending countless hours lobbying Congress to win the continuous debate across the nation, no clear end to the gun control issue is in sight. One longtime NRA supporter on Capitol Hill explained the future of the gun control debate: "We are engaged in a very long, very grim, very hard fought war. If we are successful, the gun control issue will be plaguing our kids and grandkids. If we aren't successful, they won't be dealing with it because we will have lost" (Birnbaum "Under the Gun" 34).

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