In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting there’s been an increase in calls for gun control on Capitol Hill.
There might not be a more sensitive issue in politics than guns and the second amendment. That may be why the assault weapons ban lapsed in 2004 and then hasn’t really been debated in Congress since. But the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut changed things.
“We haven’t really had this kind of a discussion in the public in a very long time,” said New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Even though Congress is now brimming with calls for new gun measures President Obama decided to sign 23 executive orders before even sending Congress a legislative proposal. Some deal with mental health issues while others attempt to improve reporting data from states to a federal database. Shaheen says she supports the president’s action.
“I thought it was appropriate for him to do whatever is within the power of the executive to move forward to address the issue.”
Numerous attempts to get a comment from First District Democrat Carol Shea-Porter went unreturned, but she’s released a statement saying she supports the “President’s comprehensive approach to addressing gun violence.”
But many Republicans were angered by the executive orders…some evening calling them an unconstitutional overreach by the executive branch. New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte says she needs more information from the White House before she can make a judgment.
“We haven’t gotten the full text of those executive orders as I understand it. There’s a description on his website, but I haven’t received the full text to fully evaluate them.”
But Ayotte doesn’t like the sound of one proposal floated by the White House: the effort to reinstate the assault weapons ban.
“I have concerns about limiting the rights of law abiding citizens, because in my experience, particularly on the types of firearms that they can hold, that’s not going to stop a criminal or someone who’s mentally deranged.”
While discussion of the assault weapons ban quickly drives the two sides of the gun debate apart, mental health seems to be an area of consensus. Shaheen says of all the ideas being debated in Washington mental health seems to be the one gaining the most traction.
“I do think around some of the mental health recommendations, there’s an opportunity to get some agreement. Around some of the school, the efforts to address violence in schools with resource officers and counselors, so I think there is some room for agreement and that’s important.”
Senator Ayotte says a part of the problem is also that current laws are being disregarded.
“As I understand it, there are a whole host of states that aren’t submitting all the records of the people that are already disqualified from holding firearms under federal law.”
There’s another piece of the gun debate that’s back in the spotlight. As Second District Democrat Ann Kuster started brushing up on the specifics of the nation’s diverse gun laws, she’s been finding that many laws aren’t being obeyed.
“A big part of what I’ve been learning about both here and in the district is the misuse or the sale of weapons outside of current law.”
Kuster offers an example. She says guns are often trafficked up and down the east coast to states with strict gun laws, like New York, from states with lax gun laws.
"What they find is that criminals will travel to Virginia where there are not strict gun control laws, and they can buy fifty weapons at a time at a gun show and bring them back."
Closing that so-called gun show loophole will be difficult, but there’s growing calls to address it. All told this Congress is spending more energy on gun issues than any in the recent past, but it’s unclear if lawmakers will find enough points of agreement to pass any gun legislation this session.