Gun talk

HEATHER REGAN WHITE, Special to the Chief

The shooting deaths last year of 20 first-graders and six educators in Newtown, Conn., and 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., re-ignited a national debate about guns that has lain dormant for nearly two decades.

In response, a bi-partisan group of congressional leaders crafted gun control laws that would expand universal background checks to include gun sales at gun shows and online, bring back a stronger assault weapons ban and limit the capacity of ammunition magazines. The plan failed on a 54-46 vote, six short of the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate.

These proposals were the first gun-related laws to make it to the floor since the 1994 passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the first assault weapons ban. The ban expired, unchecked by Congress, on Sept. 13, 2004.

Congressional leaders in support of gun control legislation have vowed to try again.

At about the same time those proposals were making their way through the Legislature, gun and public health experts were meeting in Washington to develop an agenda for upcoming gun research to present to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All attendees of the planning session agreed that the lack of good data presents obstacles for any discussion of guns. But there was no consensus as to what questions future research should answer. According to an article by the Associated Press, a representative with the NRA said better information is needed on what benefits gun ownership provides and how often guns are used successfully to assist in self-defense. An executive with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said more data is needed with regard to how guns are obtained and how many deaths and injuries they cause.

The divide has even reached Wall Street. According to Business Insider, G.E. Capital Finance announced in late April that they would no longer finance gun purchases and one gun manufacturer, Freedom Group, is set to be dumped from Cerebus Capital's portfolio. And at least one state that has recently passed stricter gun regulations has felt the burn too. Semi-automatic rifle manufacturer PTR Industries has moved its operations from the state of Connecticut after the passage of a ban on high-capacity magazines of more than 10 rounds and armor-piercing bullets and an expansion of the assault weapons ban currently in place; along with other regulations.

Recently, Colorado Senate President John Morse, a Democrat, gun-control activist and gun owner, learned that the state has certified that there are enough signatures on a petition to force a recall election. It is the first legislative recall in the state's history. In the wake of the massacre in his Aurora last summer, Morse pushed through a bill outlawing 100-round ammunition magazines, limited magazines to 15 rounds and mandated background checks for sales online and at gun shows.

The recall is being led by conservative activist Laura Carno, who has made a television ad declaring, “Don't tell me how to best defend myself.”

Morse stands by the legislation, though he acknowledges it may cost him his political career. In an interview with CBS, Morse, said "It's costing me nothing — nothing — compared to what these families are paying," he says. "Stand up and do something. Stand up and make sure this never happens to another family."

Morse supporters have filed challenges to the petition which could bring about a fight in court, meaning may take months before the recall election takes place.

According to a poll by USA, support for new gun control laws declined in the weeks following defeat in the Senate from a reported high of 60 percent polled in favor of tougher gun laws to just 49 percent support for new legislation.

And while that may be the end of the national discussion for a while, gun-related deaths continue unabated. According to the CDCP, at the current rate of death by gun in this country, 339,000 Americans will die from a bullet wound over the next 10 years. Their research further shows that by 2015, for the first time in around 30 years, more people will die by guns than by motor vehicles.

Closer to home in Louisiana, the Legislature brought several far-reaching gun control proposals to the table this past session, but only two survived to receive executive approval.

HB 6 allows off-duty law enforcement to carry their weapons on school property, at school functions or in gun-free zones. HB 8 prohibits the release of information found in handgun permit applications, including the identity of any person who has applied for or received that permit.

But two bills designed to supersede federal laws stalled in the Louisiana Legislature with two days left before the session's end.

Most notable on the Legislature's tour of all things gun was House Bill 5, introduced by Republican Jim Morris. Had it lived, it would have made any federal laws or executive orders, enacted after the first of this year, banning or restricting possession or ownership of semi-automatic weapons unenforceable. The bill included criminal penalties for enforcement or attempted enforcement of any federal laws or executive orders and required the attorney general to defend a Louisiana citizen found in violation of federal law with regard to semi-automatic weapons.

But enough House lawmakers agreed that the the legislation would violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that it failed.

Another proposal aimed at limiting federal authority was House Bill 45, sponsored by Republican Joe Lopinto. If passed, HB 45 was designed to supersede current federal law with regard to the regulation of firearm sales as well as federal authority to regulate interstate commerce. It established an alternative regulatory structure for the manufacture of firearms, their accessories and ammunition within the boundaries of Louisiana, outlined procedures for the inspection and maintenance of records and would replace current background checks procedure with an alternative system which would originate with state police and provide access to NCIS.

The proposal died in the Senate Finance.

And though we may hear no more about these two proposals, just in their introduction, they have helped shape the conversation of gun control for Louisiana residents.