As the U.S. Congress becomes officially involved in the debate on gun violence and gun control, people are lining up on both sides of the intertwined issues, saying something must be done to protect the citizenry and the Second Amendment from attack.
Several governors and local government officials sounded off on their approach well before President Obama announced his anti-gun violence package last week.
Obama’s package includes measures that would institute a ban on new assault weapons, impose limits on high-capacity magazines and expand criminal background checks to include all gun sales, close a longstanding loophole letting buyers avoid such checks by purchasing weapons at gun shows or from private sellers. Obama also proposed tougher gun-trafficking laws to crack down on the spread of weapons in the United States.
In addition, Obama signed 23 executive orders, which don’t need congressional approval. Most of the orders sought to fill holes in law enforcement, mental health and school safety — allowing federal research into gun violence, pressing agencies to submit more mental-health records to the existing background-check system and providing funding for schools to hire law enforcement officers.
Lawmakers in Wyoming told the Obama administration they wouldn’t even consider federal gun control legislation, Stateline.org reported.
State Rep. Kendell Kroeker introduced a bill that would block any federal restrictions on guns. Under the legislation, “any federal law which attempts to ban a semi-automatic firearm or to limit the size of a magazine of a firearm or other limitation on firearms in this state shall be unenforceable in Wyoming.”
There’s a hefty penalty to: Any agent caught trying to enforce federal gun laws would be guilty of a felony, punishable by as long as five years in prison and a fine as much as $5,000.
“I think that it’s necessary when the federal government violates our rights in the Constitution we have to act,” Kroeker, a Republican, told the Washington Examiner. “I don’t think this is controversial in Wyoming at all. I fully expect this bill to pass.”
However, an analyst told The Huffington Post the Wyoming bill could have legal issues because it likely would butt against the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which guarantees that an enforceable federal law trumps a conflicting state law.
In Texas, a state representative said he will introduce legislation that would make it illegal to enforce a federal gun ban, saying the Supremacy Clause needed to be challenged, WAOI-AM, San Antonio, reported.
“At some point there needs to be a showdown between the states and the federal government over the Supremacy Clause,” Republican Rep. Steve Toth said. “It is our responsibility to push back when those laws are infringed by King Obama.”
In Albany, N.Y., meanwhile, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law a package of gun-control measures that expand a ban on assault weapons and make New York the first state to change its laws in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza killed 20 school children and six adults before killing himself last month. Before he went to the school, Lanza killed his mother at the home they shared.
“I am proud to be part of this government, not just because New York has the first bill, but because New York has the best bill,” the governor, a Democrat, said during news conference last week. “I’m proud to be a New Yorker because New York is doing something — because we are fighting back.”
Cuomo signed the bill less than an hour after the State Assembly approved it 104-43 on the second full day of the 2013 legislative session, The New York Times reported. The Senate, which had been resistant to restrictive gun laws in the past, approved the measure 43-18 the previous day.
In Connecticut, lawmakers formed a task force on the Newtown massacre and said they hoped to pass legislation by the end of February, but say they don’t feel pressured by New York’s rapid response, The Hartford Courant reported.
“I think that taking quick action is important, but taking smart action is more important,” said House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, a Democrat, said.
Connecticut’s task force will look at an array of issues, including gun-control measures and legislation that would increase school security and improve the state’s mental health system.
New York’s actions — widely criticized by the National Rifle Association and others — didn’t stop with lawmakers. State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said that he would freeze investments by the state’s pension fund in firearm manufacturers.
Other public pension funds also are taking a second look at their investments in firearms manufacturers.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he directed Comptroller Amer Ahmad to get a portfolio analysis from the five city employee pension and retirement funds to determine if they hold underlying debt or equity positions in companies that manufacture or sell assault weapons.
“We cannot support or invest in companies that profit from the proliferation of assault weapons and the violence these guns bring to our communities,” Emanuel said in a statement.
In California, the state Teachers Retirement System, one of the largest in the nation, voted to begin formally divesting its firearms holdings, The New York Times reported.
“This [the Newtown shootings] latest incident, which occurred at a school and involved fellow educators and the children we cherish, is a tipping point” for the retirement system, Harry Keiley, chairman of the fund’s investment committee, said.
ABC News reported Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced he would seek legislation characterized as among the country’s broadest responses to the Newtown massacre.
Among the proposals would be a requirement for most prospective gun buyers to provide fingerprints to state police, undergo a background check and complete a mandatory gun-safety course before getting an owner’s permit. The package also would address high-capacity magazines by cutting the maximum number of bullets allowed in clips to 10.
“It makes absolutely no sense when you look at the level of carnage on our streets from guns to blame every factor but guns,” O’Malley said recently during a gun violence summit in Baltimore. “If we are to have a comprehensive approach then let us be comprehensive.”
The bill would seek to ban gun sales to residents with mental illness who have exhibited violent tendencies. It also would allocate a $25 million fund to improve school safety through measures such as automatic locking doors and mandatory guest check-in requirements, among others items.
A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll indicated 54 percent of Americans said they favor stricter gun laws, representing a five-year high but not appreciably any different than in recent years. Poll results also indicated 59 percent of Americans said they support a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.
Delaware, too, is considering gun violence measures, including requiring background checks for private firearms sales; banning the sale, manufacture, delivery and unlawful possession of military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, and banning possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, National Public Radio reported.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, said his proposals aren’t an attack on the Second Amendment.
“This is not … any kind of attack on the Second Amendment. I support the Second Amendment. And that’s not what this is about,” Markell said. “We can have a debate about these proposals. This is not a debate about the Second Amendment.”
In Colorado, where a man shot and killed 12 people and wounded 58 at an Aurora movie theater in July, state Democrats expressed optimism in the measures they’re likely to propose that will seek to strengthen gun laws, The Denver Post said. Among the proposals are across-the-board background checks on the sale of all guns and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said he supports background checks and called for better mental health treatment for young adults, something the president also is seeking.
In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican and Second Amendment supporter, said she was receptive to addressing school-safety issues.
Asked by The Arizona Republic about whether her position on gun control had changed since the Newtown shootings, Brewer said: “Well, I think that gun control has been an issue that’s been on the top of a lot of people’s minds after that horrible tragedy that took place in Connecticut.”
“I’ve been listening and receiving a lot of different papers and information in regards to what people believe the solutions are,” she said. “So, it will be something I’m sure will be addressed in the Legislature, and my ears are all open, and I’m certainly anxious, if there’s a solution, that we get it done.”
Brewer told KNAU public radio, Flagstaff, she was “not a proponent of gun control. I’m a proponent of safe areas and certainly safe schools.”
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne proposed allowing each school to train and arm its principal or another staff member. The state’s existing law allows only trained police officers to carry firearms on school campuses.
Brewer said all sides on the issue could agree the safety of schools and other public areas must be assured.
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gun control,” Brewer said. “It means that we have to come up with solutions.”
Arizona’s House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, a Democrat, said he will introduce a package to address mental health, funding for more school resource officers and gun rules.
He said his proposals would require schools “to undergo a planning and threat-assessment process, and then, they can identify what they need. After talking to schools, not every school needs an SRO [school resource officer].”
Lawmakers in California took a different tack, introducing legislation that would require people buying ammunition to show identification and would require sellers to report ammo sales to the state Justice Department, KNBC-TV, Los Angeles, said.
“It is easier in California to buy bullets than to buy alcohol, cigarettes or Sudafed cold medicine,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, the bill’s sponsor.
Saying he didn’t think such measures would work, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican, introduced a proposal that would require at least one anonymous person at each school armed.
“We haven’t had a single hijacking since 9/11, and I think it is in large part due to the presence of air marshals,” Donnelly said. “So why don’t we have a school marshals program?”
Several law enforcement officials say they won’t enforce what they consider “unconstitutional” gun control laws, should any be passed.
Linn County, Ore., Sheriff Tim Mueller said he won’t enforce any federal regulation “offending the constitutional rights of my citizens” nor would he allow federal officers to come to his county to enforce such laws, CNN said.
Sheriff Denny Peyman of Jackson County, Ky., also said he would ignore any similar directive from the administration, but later backtracked.
“If it goes through Congress, if it becomes law, if it goes that way, yeah, I’d enforce the law,” he said.
Pine County, Minn., Sheriff Robin Cole said he would consider any new federal regulation on guns to be illegal and would “refuse to carry it out,” the Grand Forks Herald reported.
“We will not enforce that,” Cole said of any possible federal law that could result in the confiscation of firearms.
Cole’s position, outlined originally in a letter, was in response to a constituent who had expressed concern about new gun laws.
Hennepin County, Minn., Sheriff Richard Stanek, who was in a group of law enforcement officers who met with Vice President Joe Biden’s gun violence task force, said Obama’s plans to improve and expand national crime-information databases and include court actions involving mental health proceedings were important, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
“We’re very pleased that he incorporated and heard us on the mental-health issue,” Stanek said.
Stanek said he hopes Obama would take advantage of his bully pulpit to get more states involved in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, launched by the FBI in late 1998. Currently only about 12 states contribute data to it, the sheriff said.
“But that’s the one thing law enforcement relies on when we do background checks,” Stanek said.
A recent Pew Research Center poll indicated 51 percent of Americans said they thought it was more important to have curbs on gun ownership than protest gun rights; 45 percent expressed the opposite view.
Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).