On January 16, 2013, following shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and multiple shootings in Aurora, Colorado, President Barack Obama unveiled a plan to up the ante on gun control.
According to whitehouse.gov, The President’s plan includes a few primary facets: a proposal to reinstate the ban on high capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons that expired in 2004, close loopholes pertaining to preventing and prosecuting gun crimes, beef up background checks and research, and put an emphasis on mental health treatment and counseling. Additionally, the plan provides that Congress confirms a director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which has not had a confirmed director since 2007.
“Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try” Said the President in his speech on January 26. Shortly after giving this speech, President Obama signed 23 executive actions (which are different than executive orders) reflecting the goals of his previously proposed plan in an effort to jumpstart his push for stricter gun laws.
Arguably the most divisive proposition included in the President’s plan is the ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The term “high-capacity magazine” pertains to any magazine holding more than 10 rounds. The assault weapons mentioned in the President’s plan are semi-atuomatic versions of automatic machine guns designed specifically for the military and characterized by specific attributes, including but not limited to pistol grips, barrel shrouds and detachable magazines. Among these is the popular AR-15 rifle.
In his aforementioned speech, President Obama describes his plan as “common sense”. Those who oppose the plan disagree, often citing a violation of the second amendment (the right to bear arms) as a viable source.
Wayne LePierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association, said in a Congressional hearing on the prevention of gun violence: “Law abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals. Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families”. He went on to denounce universal background checks, reason being that they “will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them”.
During the same hearing, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) cited a general misunderstanding of assault weapons by the populous as a major problem. “This entire discussion does not concern machine guns, and yet I would venture to say a large percentage of Americans do not understand that”. In fact, machine guns have been illegal without special permission since 1934 under The National Firearms Act.
Vice President Joe Biden argues back, calling stricter gun laws and the President’s plan a “moral obligation”.
Supporters of the President’s plan and the ban on military-style assault weapons concur. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, founding member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, attributes the record low crime rate in New York City to strict gun laws and diligent enforcement.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) proposed a bill in the senate banning the same weapons that President Obama proposes banning in his plan. In a press release relating to her bill, Feinstein defended her effort against gun enthusiasts and those opposing the ban. “We must balance the desire of a few to own military-style assault weapons with the growing threat to lives across America”, She says. “If 20 dead children in Newtown wasn’t a wakeup call that these weapons of war don’t belong on our streets, I don’t know what is.”
Interestingly enough, of the 23 executive actions the President signed on January 26th, not one of them mentions a ban on military-style assault weapons despite being a pivotal part of the preceeding plan. They instead focus on the ATF, school security, background checks, mental health, and research.