© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Shooting Prompts New Debate On Gun Magazine Ban

A file photo of a Glock 19, the type of weapon that authorities say was used in the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson.
Tim Sloan
AFP/Getty Images
A file photo of a Glock 19, the type of weapon that authorities say was used in the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson.

Some of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' colleagues are saying it's high time to debate the reinstatement of a ban on the kind of large-capacity bullet magazines used in the shooting that wounded her and killed six others last weekend in Arizona.

Dozens of House members from both parties took turns praising Giffords during a day of tributes last week for the victims of the Tucson shootings.

California Democrat Jane Harman used her time at the podium to suggest Congress actually do something.

"We should revisit sensible federal laws to control access to guns and ammunition," Harman said. "At a minimum, I believe we must promptly restore the expired federal ban on extended magazine clips."

The ban that expired in 2004 made it illegal to either manufacture or sell ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The weapon used in the Tucson rampage had a magazine with at least 30 rounds. It can take only about 10 seconds to fire that many bullets, one at a time.

Reintroducing The Bill

The lawmaker leading the efforts to reinstate the ban on large-capacity magazines is New York Democrat Carolyn McCarthy. Another gunman, using similar high-capacity magazines, killed McCarthy's husband and seriously wounded her son on the Long Island Railroad 17 years ago.

"What I'm trying to do is not take away the right of someone to own a gun, but just basically look at the large-capacity clips," McCarthy says. "People have to remember that the gun that they use can still have a clip in it. Ten bullets and one in the chamber, that's 11 bullets, so if you're using it for self-defense at home, there's plenty of ammo there for them."

McCarthy plans to re-introduce a bill this week that outlaws large-volume bullet magazines.  For Texas Republican Kevin Brady, it's a lost cause.

"I'm not supportive of it, and I don't think it will gain much traction in the House," Brady says.

Like Brady, Indiana Republican Mike Pence says what happened in Tucson should not be blamed on a public policy that needs fixing.

"What we had here was a despicable human being who engaged in a barbarous act against defenseless civilians and a deeply respected colleague," he says. "I think we should focus on holding that individual to account."

Is Now The Time To Act?

Saying Congress has no responsibility to act is naive, according to New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt, who's co-sponsoring McCarthy's bill.

"Yes, there are crazy people out there," he says. "All the more reason why we should have gun safety legislation."

But it's not just Republicans putting the brakes on reinstating the high-capacity magazine ban. Texas Democrat Silvestre Reyes says as a former border patrol chief, he can see a point in such a ban.

"But I really don't think right now's the right time," he says. "We need to make sure that the political climate is settled -- a little more settled than right after an attack on a member of Congress. I just don't think it's going to go anywhere."

There's a reason why so many of McCarthy's fellow Democrats balk at tightening gun laws, she says. "It's called the NRA."

"They have a lot of power down here, and a lot of members here are petrified of them, that they will basically go against them in an election and make that member lose," she says.

Asked to comment, the National Rifle Association demurred. "At this time," it said in a statement, "anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.