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Will Congress act on gun control? Don't count on it

Published June 2, 2014 11:14 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington •

Another shooting, another call for firearm restrictions.

Another lost cause.

In the aftermath of a California melee that left three people dead by knives, three by guns and several others injured, there were immediate calls for Congress to pass gun-control measures. The push started with the father of one of the victims who tore into politicians calling him with condolences.

"I don't care about your sympathy. I don't give a s—- that you feel sorry for me," Richard Martinez told reporters after a police news conference, as quoted by The Washington Post. "Get to work and do something. I'll tell the president the same thing if he calls me. Getting a call from a politician doesn't impress me."

But what's past is prologue, and in this case every recent effort to change gun laws has met with the same end: failure.

Last year, Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases and limited the size of firearm magazines.

Utah's members of Congress opposed that legislation, even though a poll last year by Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy showed that some 82 percent of residents backed expanding background checks to cover all potential gun buyers.

There are scores of gun-related bills now awaiting congressional action — from banning online ammunition sales to a national registry of handgun owners to bringing back the assault-weapons ban — but there's little appetite to take action.

"Nothing is going to happen in this Congress," says Robert Spitzer, the author of The Politics of Gun Control and a political science professor at the State University of New York-Courtland. "When you add in the fact that it's an election year and they've got other stuff on their plate, and they tried and failed last year — in terms of the pecking order of things in D.C., there's not going to be" anything on gun control.

Congress didn't pass any gun measures after one of its own — then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz. — was shot in the head at an event. It didn't act after Columbine, nor Virginia Tech, and even the cries for action after the Newtown massacre of 20 children didn't succeed in the legislative effort last year.

President Barack Obama has called for universal background checks and issued more than two dozen executive orders to ensure federal agencies are sharing data with the existing checks, funding gun-violence research and making it easier for states to report mental-health concerns to the federal government.

But Obama has also earned the ire of gun-control groups, nabbing an "F" grade from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in his first year in office. That came after he signed two laws that allowed guns in national parks and on Amtrak trains.

For the record, I don't own a gun but I grew up around them and regularly trek out to a Maryland range to blast clay pigeons with a rented 12-gauge. I also get regular alerts in my Capitol Hill neighborhood of shootings and have, on too many occasions, heard gunfire blocks away.

The nation's capital used to be the U.S. murder capital, too, (now it's Chicago) and until a Supreme Court ruling in 2008, D.C. banned all handguns. Now you can own one if you want to jump some tall hurdles; most people don't make the effort.

Some would say the gun restrictions make it tougher to defend one's self in the city, while others argue the more guns, more problems.

But whether you believe in gun control or fear it, it doesn't change the fact that Washington isn't going to act on national firearms legislation this year, or any time soon.

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Burr reports from Washington, D.C., for The Salt Lake Tribune. He can be reached at tburr@sltrib.com or via Twitter @thomaswburr.






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