By CHARLES M. BLOW
New York Times
For three decades, the story of gun control was one of notorious crimes and laws passed in response, beginning with the federal law that followed the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. But after a Democratic-controlled Congress in 1994 passed bills proposed by President Clinton to restrict certain kinds of assault weapons and to create a national system of background checks for gun purchases, the political pendulum began to swing the other way. President Bush’s defeat of Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election was attributed in part to the perception among gun owners that Mr. Gore was “anti-gun.”
Supporters of gun control regularly point to the power of the National Rifle Association, whose 4.3 million members make it one of the most effective advocacy groups in Washington.
In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Bill of Rights included a guarantee of the personal right to own a gun. The decision was both a measure of how far the pro-gun debate had moved, and a blow to many of the stricter gun control laws adopted by cities like Washington and Chicago.
In recent years, there have been calls for a renewed debate over gun violence after a series of horrific shootings. In November 2009, an Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood, Tex., was accused of shooting and killing 13 people and wounding 30 people. In January 2011, a gunman in Tucson, Ariz., armed with a Glock semiautomatic, shot and killed six people and wounded 14 others, including former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona.
In the wake of the Tucson shootings, gun control advocates said they believed the shock of the attack would alter the political atmosphere, in no small part because one of the victims was a member of Congress. But the bills that were introduced — including ones to restrict sales of 100-bullet magazines or to tighten background checks — went nowhere.
Mixed Views Found on Stricter Laws for Guns
Most voters in Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin are not clamoring for stricter state laws covering the sale of guns, with majorities in each state saying more restrictions would not prevent violent attacks like the killings in Aurora, Colo.
Still, roughly 4 in 10 likely voters say gun laws in their individual states should be made more strict, according to Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls conducted from July 31 to Aug. 6, 2012.
But as many voters in Virginia say the laws should stay the way they are, as do about half of voters in Colorado and Wisconsin. (Most interviews in Wisconsin were conducted before the shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.) The polls found that 6 percent in Wisconsin, 8 percent in Colorado and 9 percent in Virginia want their gun laws made less strict.
Many voters seem to lack confidence in the effectiveness of more stringent laws. About 6 in 10 voters in Virginia and Wisconsin and two-thirds in Colorado say stricter laws would not deter gunmen intent on mass shootings.
Few voters in the polls are satisfied with how much time the presidential candidates have spent on gun laws. More than 4 in 10 in Virginia and Wisconsin say too little time has been spent on the issue, while nearly 3 in 10 say it has been the right amount; Colorado voters are more divided. About 2 in 10 in each state say they have spent too much time discussing the issue.
About half of voters in each state say they or someone in their household owns a gun.
The polls found majority support in each state for a nationwide ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, ranging from 52 percent in favor in Virginia, where 32 people were killed by a gunman in 2007 at Virginia Tech, to 57 percent in Wisconsin and 58 percent in Colorado.
Partisanship is a factor fueling views of gun control, with Democratic voters largely in support of stricter laws and Republicans in support of keeping the laws as they are.
Independents in each state are more apt to favor keeping the laws, rather than making them tougher.
The telephone polls were conducted among 1,463 likely voters in Colorado, 1,412 likely voters in Virginia and 1,428 likely voters in Wisconsin. The results in each state have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 points.
A Push for Tougher Gun Laws in New York State
In the wake of mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin and an uptick in gun violence in New York City, lawmakers are planning a new push to win approval of tighter gun laws in New York State.
One measure introduced in early August would require background checks of anyone buying ammunition. Another, still being drafted, would limit the purchase of firearms to one per person per month.
Supporters of the measures said they would fill several gaps in New York’s gun laws, which are already among the toughest in the country, and make them more complete than any other state’s in discouraging gun crime.
Opponents, including the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said lawmakers were trying to capitalize on the mass shootings to push their own agendas and prevent responsible people from owning guns.
In recent years, many gun control measures have passed the Assembly, where Democrats are in the majority, only to stall in the Republican-controlled Senate. For example, in 2012 the Senate blocked a measure to require micro-stamping, a form of ballistics identification.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, supported tougher gun control measures during his campaign in 2010, but, facing a divided Legislature, he has not made it one of the central elements of his legislative agenda.
In addition to the mass shootings nationally, there has been a steady stream of gun crimes in New York City. As of Aug. 5, there had been 1,058 shooting victims in New York City in 2012, up from 977 in the same period the previous year.
A number of lawmakers have offered proposals to address gun violence. State Senator José R. Peralta, Democrat of Queens, would limit ammunition sales to 500 rounds per customer each month.
Mr. Peralta is also seeking to require courts to strip people of their guns or gun permits if they are committed to psychiatric hospitals, and to require that all handgun licenses across the state be renewed at least once every five years. He is also the sponsor of the measure to require background checks of people buying ammunition.
State Senator Michael N. Gianaris, Democrat of Queens, is the lawmaker seeking to limit firearm purchases to one per month. He said the measure would cut down on gun trafficking, in which a person buys a large cache of guns legally and then resells them.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg expressed ambivalence about Mr. Gianaris’s proposal because, he said, most guns used in murders in New York City come from out of state.
Court Battles Over the Second Amendment
Recent battles have taken place in the courts, revolving around fundamentally differing interpretations of the oddly punctuated, often-debated Second Amendment, which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The Supreme Court in 2008 embraced the view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun for personal use, ruling 5 to 4 that there is a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense.
But the landmark ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller addressed only federal laws; it left open the question of whether Second Amendment rights protect gun owners from overreaching by state and local governments.
In June 2010, the court ruled in another 5-4 decision that the Second Amendment restrains government’s ability to significantly limit “the right to keep and bear arms.” The case involved a challenge to Chicago’s gun control law, regarded as among the strictest in the nation.
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said that the Second Amendment right “applies equally to the federal government and the states.”
The McDonald v. Chicago ruling is an enormous symbolic victory for supporters of gun rights, but its short-term practical impact is unclear. As in the Heller decision, the justices left for another day the question of just what kinds of gun control laws can be reconciled with Second Amendment protection.
A 1939 decision by the Supreme Court suggested, without explicitly deciding, that the Second Amendment right should be understood in connection with service in a militia. The “collective rights’’ interpretation of the amendment became the dominant one, and formed the basis for the many laws restricting firearm ownership passed in the decades since. But many conservatives, and in recent years even some liberal legal scholars, have argued in favor of an “individual rights’’ interpretation that would severely limit government’s ability to regulate gun ownership.
In May 2009, President Obama signed into law a provision allowing visitors to national parks and refuges to carry loaded and concealed weapons. The provision represented a Congressional victory that eluded gun rights advocates under a Republican president.
But in July 2009, the Senate turned aside the latest attempt by gun advocates to expand the rights of gun owners, narrowly voting down a provision that would have allowed gun owners with valid permits from one state to carry concealed weapons in other states.Read More