Gun Control Divides Country Even in States Where Massacres Have Taken Place


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High capacity magazines should be banned, say many people, but the public remains evenly divided.
By Mark R. Gould

With two mass murders involving  automatic weapons with high capacity magazines  legally purchased in Wisconsin and Colorado occurring in the past month, the debate over gun control continues. Voters in the affected states, as well as Virgina, the site of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, favor a ban on the high capacity magazines.  The high capacity magazines allowed the killers in each of these tragedies   to fire without stopping to reload.

However,  voters in those states  don’t think additional laws will prevent mass shootings, a New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday shows.

Six states have bans or strict limitations on the magazines now.

On the national scene, the public’s attitude has not changed much. “There has been no significant change in public views on the issue of gun control and gun rights following the July 20th shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Currently, 47% say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 46% say it is more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns. That is virtually unchanged from a survey earlier this year in April, when 45% prioritized gun control and 49% gun rights,” according to the PEW Research Center for the People and the Press.

Major shootings don’t seem to influence the gun polls, according to PEW.

“The latest national survey …conducted July 26-29, 2012 among 1,010 adults, shows that relatively few Americans view the shooting in Aurora as a sign of broader social problems. Two-thirds (67%) say that shootings like this one are just the isolated acts of troubled individuals. Only about a quarter (24%) say shootings like this reflect broader problems in American society. This is similar to the public reaction after the Tucson shooting in early 2011.”

Read the full report at

Barack Obama visiting shooting victims at University of Colorado Hospital on July 22, 2012

A CNN/ORC International poll released last week  confirms those findings and says  the public remains evenly divided about gun control in the aftermath of the shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin.  Fifty percent of the public says do not want any restrictions or minor restrictions on owning guns. Forty-eight percent support major restrictions or a complete ban except for law enforcement.  These numbers have remained steady over the past decade.

Read more here: "CNN Poll: Gun control opinions following shootings."

Some facts about guns:

Approximately 30,000 people are killed by guns each year.

There are 300 million privately owned firearms in the U.S.:106 million handguns; 105 million rifles and 83 million shotguns. That’s one gun for every American. The U.S. has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in world.

Most Americans don’t own guns, because ¾ people with guns own two or more. Today, there are 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the U.S., way above the average in all other nations. Although violent crime is on the decline, homicide murders remain high.

According to the General Survey from the National Policy Opinion Center, U. of Chicago, gun ownership declined steadily in recent years.

Since 1980, 44 states have passed some form of laws that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside the home for personal protection.

Fareed Zakaria in his article, "The Case for Gun Control," writes,"Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history in 'Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic. Laws that banned the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813. Other states soon followed: Indiana in 1820, Tennessee and Virginia in 1838, Alabama in 1839 and Ohio in 1859. Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas (Texas!) explained in 1893, the "mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.'"

He says Congress passed  gun control laws in 1934, which were  upheld upheld unanimously. by the U.S. Supreme Court.

 "Things started to change in the 1970s as various right-wing groups coalesced to challenge gun control, overturning laws in state legislatures, Congress and the courts. But Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by Richard Nixon, described the new interpretation of the Second Amendment in an interview after his tenure as "one of the greatest pieces of fraud--I repeat the word fraud--on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."

Read the rest of his article here:"The Case for Gun Control."

In 1994, Congress passed  The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) (or Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act), which was a subtitle of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a federal law that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms, so called "assault weapons." There was no legal definition of "assault weapons" in the U.S. prior to the law's enactment. The 10-year ban was passed by Congress on September 13, 1994, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton the same day. The ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment.

Virginia Tech students mourn the victims at a candlelight vigil.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired on September 13, 2004, as part of the law's sunset provision. There have been multiple attempts to renew the ban, but no bill has reached the floor of Congress for a vote.

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) claimed the ban was effective because "It was drying up supply and driving up prices. The number of those guns used in crimes dropped because they were fewer available." A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) stated that he "can in no way vouch for the validity" of Brady Campaign's claim that the ban was responsible for violent crime's decline.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied the "assault weapon" ban and other gun control efforts, and found "insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence." A 2004 critical review of research on firearms by a National Research Council panel also noted that academic studies of the assault weapon ban "did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence" and noted "due to the fact that the relative rarity with which the banned guns were used in crime before the ban ... the maximum potential effect of the ban on gun violence outcomes would be very small.”

The United States Department of Justice National Institute of Justice found should the ban be renewed, its effects on gun violence would likely be small, and perhaps too small for reliable measurement, because rifles in general, including rifles referred to as "assault rifles" or "assault weapons", are rarely used in gun crimes.

That study by Christopher S. Koper, Daniel J. Woods, and Jeffrey A. Roth of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, University of Pennsylvania found no statistically significant evidence that neither the assault weapons ban nor the ban on magazines holding more than 10 bullets had reduced gun murders. However, they concluded that it was "premature to make definitive assessments of the ban's impact on gun crime," and argue that if the ban had been in effect for more than 9 years, it is possible that benefits from the law might begin to be observed.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence examined the impact of the Assault Weapons Ban in its 2004 report, On Target: The Impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Act.  Examining 1.4 million guns involved in crime, it determined that since the law was enacted, "assault weapons have made up only 1.61% of the guns ATF has traced to crime — a drop of 66% from the pre-ban rate."

In  February 2009 newly sworn-in Attorney General Eric Holder repeated the Obama administration's desire to reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. 

"I believe the majority of gun owners would agree that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons; that we should check someone's criminal record before they can check out a gun seller; that a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily. These steps shouldn't be controversial. They should be common sense."

The National Rifle Association is the biggest advocate for the firearms owners. A Gallup Organization poll last October found that Republicans are more likely to have guns in their homes than Democrats, 55 percent to 40 percent. The survey showed 47 percent of American adults have a firearm at home.

To highlight the politics connected to gun control legislation, Larry Pratt, the executive director of the 300,000 member Gun Owners of America, based in Springfield, Virginia,,said,: “We would encourage the president to come out for renewal of the Clinton gun ban. That would ensure that he’s defeated.” Military-style rifles were banned under President Bill Clinton, a law which later expired.

Pratt was not supportive of Romney because his support of the anti-gun bill as governor of Massachusetts.. “The need right now is to get rid of the president, so we’re willing to support Mitt Romney simply because that’s the instrument by which we’re going to remove the president,” Pratt said.

Even as Obama repeatedly says he won’t seek to restrict gun rights, advocates on both sides said they would expect Obama to return to the issue of gun control in a second term.

“Read more: "Obama Resists Gun Control Advocates’ Call for Legislation" and "NRA Sought Donations in Days After Colorado Shootings."

Charles Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat,  led the successful 1994 fight in the House to ban 19 military-style assault weapons He  said there isn’t much point in pushing for new laws restricting guns these days. “We see the power of the NRA around here.”

“This is not a time to be bringing out all those old gun- control bills,” Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, said.

Read Yahoo's complete coverage of the Colorado shooting.

April 16 memorial at Virginia TechMemorial on Virginia Tech's drill field after the April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

“When there is an extraordinarily heartbreaking tragedy like the one we saw, there's always an outcry immediately after for action. And there's talk of new reforms, and there's talk of new legislation," Obama said in his speech.  "And too often, those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere."

"And I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms.  And we recognize the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation -— that hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage," he said.

"It's up to us, as parents and as neighbors and as teachers and as mentors, to make sure our young people don't have that void inside them," he said.

Gun politics can be treacherous In1970, when Senator Joseph Tydings (D,MD), who had highlighted crime in the District of Columbia and sponsored the Firearms Registration and Licensing Act, was defeated for reelection.

After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968, Congress took action. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed. It bans mail order sales of rifles and shotguns and prohibits most felons, drug users and mentally incompetent people from buying guns.

Read President Johnson's remarks after passage of the legislation.

In the 1990s, observers believe that  gun politics took a turn to the right in response to two high profile ATF incidents, Ruby Ridge and Waco, that led to mobilization of modern militia groups.These incidents combined with the passage of the Brady Act in 1993 and the Assault Weapons Ban a year later increased the fears of those who felt the Federal Government would confiscate their firearms. The Militia Movement expanded throughout the 1990s.


Here are links to several recent  opinion pieces and related information  on the issue:

"‘Gunclingers’: Aurora, Assault Weapons and the Rise of Mass Shootings"

"NRA Muscle Chills Gun-Control Talk After Shootings"

"Gun Control: Of Paranoia and Bromides"

Related content on

"'They Were Just Like Everybody Else': The Columbine High School Massacre"


Visit your local library for these resources:

 Outgunned: Up against the NRA: the First Complete Insider Account of the Battle over Gun Control
Peter H.Brown,  (2003). 

Gun Violence in America: The Struggle for Control
 Alexander DeConde,  (2001). 

Looking for a Few Good Moms: How One Mother Rallied a Million Others against the Gun Lobby
Donna Dees-Thomases, (2004). 

Is Gun Ownership a Right?
Kelly Doyle, (2005). 

Guns and Violence
Laura K.Egendorf, (2005). 

Gun Violence: Opposing Viewpoints
Helen Cothran, (2002). 

Gun Violence
Margaret Haerens, (2006).

Blown Away: American Women and Guns
Caitlin Kelly, (2004). 

Bias against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard about Gun Control Is Wrong
John R.Lott, (2003).

 More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws
 John R.Lott, (2000). 

Seven Myths of Gun Control
Richard Poe, (2003). 

Every Handgun Is Aimed at You: The Case For Banning Handguns
Josh Sugarmann, (2001). 

Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights
 Glenn H.Utter, (2000). 

The Right to Bear Arms
 Robert Winters, (2006).  


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